Keep Your Heart Healthy This Summer
The days are longer, the nights are warmer, and the list of summer activities is long and varied. From backyard cookouts to exotic resort vacations, summer is the season for spending time outside, enjoying the company of friends and family, taking a break from hectic workplaces, and chowing down on seasonal produce favorites like peaches and watermelons.
If you feel “lighter” in the summer, it might not just be due to the carefree atmosphere that characterizes the season. Research shows that, on average, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels tend to sit about eight percent higher in the winter than in the summer, and HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels increase by as much as five percent in the warmer months.1 A study conducted at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles found that the number of deaths attributed to cardiovascular health issues and conditions increases by 26 to 36 percent in December and January. This variance does not have a confirmed cause, but may be linked to flu season, stress, blood pressure and activity levels, and the myriad opportunities for overindulgence during the winter holidays.
Whatever the reason, the data indicates that summer is naturally a heart-healthier season. And by prioritizing personal care practices like physical activity and regular hydration, you can extend those heart health benefits into the winter season and beyond!
Here are 10 easy ways to harness the health-boosting nature of the summer season to keep your heart in peak condition.
Take your workouts outdoors to capitalize on the benefits of fresh air and sunshine for lower blood pressure and better sleep. Make sure you account for the increase in temperature and humidity, though. Given the role it plays in keeping your body cool, your heart has to work harder than it does in cooler months. Avoid the warmest hours of the day and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not running record-setting miles. It’s also a great idea to bring a buddy with you so that you’re not alone if you start to feel dizzy or dehydrated.
Barbecues are a hallmark of summer, and they’re a great chance to enjoy colorful, heart-healthy meals packed with flavor and nutrients. Vegetables and fruits like zucchini, summer squash, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and pineapple are easy to toss on skewers with protein sources like chicken breast and shrimp. Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that support balanced cholesterol levels, and you can save cooking oil calories by grilling it instead of pan-frying it. Garnish your summer fare with avocado or guacamole for an extra boost of fiber and monounsaturated fat!
The risk of dehydration increases in the summer months, as warmer temperatures speed up fluid loss by sweating and even breathing. Dehydration reduces blood volume, which puts strain on the heart as it works harder to deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. It’s a good rule of thumb to drink 16 ounces of water every hour. If you’re prone to excessive sweating, sports drinks, powdered electrolyte drink mixes, or coconut water can help prevent a detrimental loss of minerals like potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
Flock together (but adhere to current COVID-19 guidelines).
Spending time with people you can talk to about your life and laugh with can help lower your stress levels and encourage relaxation. Doing this regularly throughout the summer – whether it’s a beach day, a hike or bike ride, or a backyard picnic – will promote heart health, especially if you combine socialization and physical activity. Just make sure to follow your local or state guidelines for social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. No one wants to be sick in the summertime!
Summer is the perfect time to take a break from your hectic schedule by planning a trip. Whether your go-to vacation is camping in the mountains or staying at a tropical resort, putting space between you and your usual pile of obligations helps you recharge and refocus. Plus, an impending beach getaway might lend a little extra motivation to start that workout program you’ve been putting off. Maintaining a healthy weight does your heart good by lowering the risk of developing serious conditions like diabetes or heart disease.
Light up (the campfire, that is).
Flickering flames have a certain captivating quality, and gathering around a campfire doesn’t just facilitate the telling of ghost stories. An anthropologist at the University of Alabama conducted a study that demonstrated the relaxing effects of sitting by a crackling fire.2 The combination of the light, sound, and smell promotes a decrease in blood pressure and calms the nervous system – just as effectively as meditation!
Except when absolutely necessary, avoid being outside between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm – or, at minimum, 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm. The hottest part of the day poses the greatest risk for heat stroke and exhaustion, both of which can negatively impact your heart. And don’t forget your skin, either: Make a habit of applying broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, and use at least 30 SPF.
Striking a balance between staying cool and keeping your skin safe from the sun’s damaging UV rays can be tricky, but it is possible. Lightweight, breathable clothing in light colors can help you achieve both goals, even if you opt for long sleeves and pants. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to shield your eyes from the glare and your scalp from sunburn. The bigger the glasses, the more you’ll look like a celebrity trying to keep a low profile.
Know the signs.
Even if you’re a healthy, active individual, you still run the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. Activities that normally don’t feel strenuous can lead to heat stroke symptoms in the summertime. Dr. Adolph Hutter, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says, “For the average person, just walking on a golf course when it’s 100० with high humidity is stressful for the cardiovascular system.”3 If you’re sweating more than usual, experiencing muscle spasms, or developing a heat rash, move to an air-conditioned environment as quickly as possible. For more severe symptoms, like a fever, confusion, vomiting, hyperventilation, and headaches, it’s probably necessary to go to the emergency room.
Supplement for stability.
A healthy diet, socialization with family and friends, and safe, regular exercise throughout the summer months can have positive benefits for your cholesterol and blood pressure. Taking supplements that contain vitamins, minerals, and natural herbal compounds can help extend these positive effects to maintain heart health. Check out CitriCholess for cholesterol management, Hyper Balance for healthy blood flow, and GlucoVita for blood sugar maintenance! These U.S. Doctors’ Clinical supplements are doctor formulated and designed to support your vitality and longevity goals.
This summer will probably look a little different than usual, given the COVID-19 situation, but it’s still possible to participate in activities and practices that will boost your heart health. Enjoy some slower mornings and sunset walks, get plenty of rest, increase your intake of fresh produce, and try adding swimming to your workout routine for stress relief, nourishment, and a low-impact way to raise your heart rate. Taking care of your heart can be simple and fun – and it’s definitely worth it!