I grew up in Georgia, where hot summer days meant no school, plenty of daylight, fresh peaches from roadside stands, and sleeping out on the back porch to stay cool. And what Southerner can forget those giant mosquitoes!
Speaking of mosquitoes, there’s no doubt they are among several woes that can tax your health—and your patience—during the summer months. With that in mind, I wanted to share some health tips for summer so you can enjoy the season with ease.
Repel Pests Naturally
DEET, a chemical developed in 1946, had been the only bug repellent endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for decades. However, its odor (which is repelling to humans as well as mosquitoes) and safety concerns have made alternatives even more attractive.
Fortunately, there now are other options. One is a chemical called picaridin, which has been used in Australia and Europe since the 1980s but only became available in the US in 2005. Picaridin appears to be as effective as DEET but it smells better and is less irritating to the skin. Another is IR3535, an ingredient in Avon’s Skin So Soft Bug Guard.
There’s also oil of lemon eucalyptus, which offers protection similar to other bug repellents with low concentrations of DEET. (Repel’s Lemon Eucalyptus is a good brand.) A soybean-based product called Bite Blocker also works well, as does Buzz Away, which contains citronella, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and other herbs.
Chemicals and oils aren’t your only options. Here are some additional ways to repel bugs and mosquitoes:
- Several plants are natural bug repellents. If possible, plant lemon thyme, tansy, scented geraniums, sweet basil, and sassafras around your home. If that’s not an option, get a few potted plants for your patio.
- Wear lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks to protect delicate skin. Choose lighter-colored clothes as bugs are attracted to darker colors.
- Use fans—they help ward off mosquitoes and other bugs.
- Regularly rid your yard of water that has collected in kiddie pools, buckets, garbage cans, clogged gutters, plastic pots, etc. Mosquitoes need standing water to reproduce. If you have a pond on your property, stock it with fish—they eat mosquito larvae.
- Use light bulbs with a yellow hue in your outdoor fixtures. They are less attractive to bugs.
- Don’t wear perfume, cologne, or other scented products. Fragrances attract insects.
If you happen to end up with a bug bite or sting, one of the most effective, natural ways to reduce the discomfort is to dab the affected area with toothpaste. The alkalinity of the baking soda in many brands of toothpaste relieves itching, and the antibacterial components prevent infection. Just spread a thick layer of toothpaste over bites and let it dry. Take a small tube with you to your outdoor events, just in case you need it.
Drink Lots of Water
Drink eight to twelve 8-ounce glasses of water every day—and during the hot days of summer you need to drink even more. That’s because hot weather doubles, or triples, our normal fluid losses. Keep a bottle of filtered water with you at all times and get into the habit of drinking water before you feel thirsty, since thirst is actually a sign that dehydration has already set in.
Limit Time Outdoors When Air Quality Is Poor
It’s a good idea to avoid air pollution whenever you can, however, hot weather may make air pollution even more dangerous. The pairing of these two elements has the potential to increase risk of stroke by about 50 percent! Your best bet is to stay indoors on hot days when air quality is poor.
Be Smart About Sun Exposure
With a little common sense and added protection, you can get the most out of the summer sun and not worry about sacrificing your health. For starters, avoid prolonged time in the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. You should also make a point to eat more foods that are rich in carotenoids, which act as “internal sunscreen” as they accumulate in the skin. (Read on to see a list of carotenoid-rich summertime fruits and vegetables.)
Load Up on Summertime Fruits and Veggies
Summer is the time when grocery stores, farmers’ markets, roadside stands—and perhaps even your own garden—are overflowing with fruits and vegetables. Summertime produce is some of the most nutritious you can buy, so I encourage you to take advantage of the rainbow of options available to you during this season.
Some of the most phytonutrient-dense summer fruits are blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes, and cherries. The top vegetables are garlic, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, red bell peppers, onions, and corn.
And let’s not forget to give a nod to the perennial summertime favorite—watermelon. Watermelon is high in lycopene, a carotenoid that helps protect against heart disease, UV-induced skin and eye damage, and prostate and other types of cancer. Watermelon is also a good source of potassium, vitamins A and C, and the amino acid citrulline. Our bodies use citrulline to make arginine, a precursor to nitric oxide, which helps regulate blood pressure, supports healthy circulation, and even boosts male sexual function. And although watermelon contains sugar, it actually has a low glycemic load. That means it doesn’t cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.
Look for a firm, symmetrical, and relatively heavy watermelon with few bruises. Roll it over—the underside should have a yellowish spot from where it rested on the ground as it ripened in the sun. And don’t refrigerate it—room temperature melons have significantly more lycopene than chilled melons.
Use Smart Grilling Techniques
Picnics and barbecues are a summertime ritual for many, but did you know that grilling meat at high temperatures produces cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs)? And when fats drip onto hot coals or heating elements, additional cancer-causing compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. The following tips can help you can avoid these risks:
- Use the leanest cuts of meats and poultry. This is not only heart-healthy, but limits the amount of fat that drips onto the grill.
- Reduce grilling time by cutting your meat into small chunks or precooking it in a microwave or two to five minutes. This can decrease HCAs by 90 percent.
- Marinate your meat and add herbs. Even a few minutes of marinating sets up a barrier against heat that dramatically reduces the formation of HCAs. Make sure your marinade recipe includes an acidic component (i.e., lemon juice, orange juice, vinegar), combined with your favorite herbs and flavorings (i.e., rosemary, onions, garlic). In fact, rosemary alone makes a big difference when it comes to reducing your risk of cancer from grilling. Studies show that adding it to meat before barbecuing dramatically reduces HCAs, which scientists attribute to rosemary's potent antioxidants: rosmarinic acid, carnosol, and carnosic acid.
Although traditional marinades include oil, it’s not necessary; omitting it will reduce smoking on the grill and minimize the formation of PAHs.
Safer Summer Travel
The warm weather beckons the traveler in all of us. But let’s face it, as much fun as traveling can be, it can also be rough on your health. So here are my top health tips for summer travel:
- Pack your probiotics. Many vacations include visits to exciting and exotic locales, which usually means an introduction to new foods—as well as water supplies you’re not used to. Your best defense is probiotics. These beneficial bacteria help to break down hard-to-digest foods, as well as promote regular, healthy bowel movements. They also give your digestive system an “immune boost” by populating your intestines with healthy flora, and crowding out the other, less desirable bacteria.
- Stretch your legs. If you will be driving in a car or riding in an airplane for more than an hour or two, it is critical that you stretch your legs and feet to maintain optimal circulation. If you are flying in an airplane, try to get up and walk around every 30–45 minutes. Taking Pycnogenol before, during, and after long flights can also help reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis. Massaging your calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings also helps. Use long, upward strokes to help the blood move toward your heart, and take deep, relaxed breaths to keep plenty of oxygen in your bloodstream.
- Avoid motion sickness. If motion sickness is a problem (by land or by sea), consider giving ginger a try. Eat a quarter-inch slice of ginger, or take 1,000 mg of standardized ginger extract three or four hours before travel. Don’t like ginger? Eating a light, protein-packed meal and keeping your face cool can also help prevent motion sickness.
- Raise the bar on your snacks. Long car and plane rides, hikes, and the like often warrant a bit of refueling between meals. Don’t turn to chips, candy, and other unhealthy snacks. Instead pack healthy snack bars made with whey protein, fresh fruit, vegetables, and filtered water.