Spring offers a breath of literal fresh air as more people head outside after months of cold confinement during winter. If you’re one of the many who enjoy this much-needed seasonal shift, then you’re probably also wondering how to make the most of warmer weather and longer, sunnier days. From outdoor activities to a boost in social gatherings, spring can help you work on those resolutions you made in January while lifting your mental spirits. Now’s the chance to jumpstart your summer health goals by taking advantage of everything this season has to offer.
Soak Up the Sun
Ever notice how much lighter your mood gets when you spend time outdoors? It’s no coincidence. Sunlight increases vitamin D production in your body. Just 15 minutes in the sun (sans sunscreen) can fulfill your daily quota for vitamin D. Getting enough of this essential nutrient has been found to protect against depression, bone problems, autoimmune diseases, type-2 diabetes, flu and even cancer.
Take advantage of longer days filled with sun to improve your mental and physical health. If you garden or plan to start a veggie patch this season, note that you’ll gain an added advantage in the form of fresh produce. Just remember to lather on sunscreen after you’ve soaked up direct sunlight for 15 minutes. The sun offers a variety of benefits, but too much ultraviolet light damages your skin and may lead to health problems.
Try Lighter, More Nutritious Fare
During winter, especially around the holidays, people tend to eat heavier fare because we crave protection against the elements. Stews, roasts, potato-laden dishes and desserts dominate winter menus. Even in-season produce like squash, while nutritious, bulks up your carb intake. Spring gives you the chance to switch dietary gears with lighter fare and healthier components.
Once warmer weather rolls around, avocados, spinach and Swiss chard are available for delicious, nutrient-rich salads. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cabbage, are inexpensive and easy to find this time of year. Apples, pineapples, apricots, rhubarb and strawberries are also in season, all of which are all full of vitamins and antioxidants to help protect against illness and disease. It’s a good time to try some lighter recipes that will help you to stay fit and flexible for warm-weather activities.
You may not feel like moving much in winter, particularly if you need fresh air or different scenery to get you going. No problem with spring. Once the sidewalks clear of snow and the frost disappears, it’s time to lace up and head out to enjoy warmer days without the extreme heat of summer. There are plenty of opportunities for moving more in spring. Activities to check off your “to try” list include:
If you’re not into that much movement, or you need something a little more low-key, try golf. Walking and carrying your own bag will burn off some calories, but you can take a slower pace than some of these other activities. Swimming, too, provides a whole-body workout without the stress on your joints.
Whatever activity you enjoy, make it a part of your daily spring routine, and you’ll benefit from better health, less fatigue and improved mood. Keep in mind that your body may be a bit out of practice after the long winter. Take time to do stretches and light exercises to warm up before setting out on more vigorous activities. It’s also a good idea to get a physical exam by your doctor before you start any new exercise routine. Physical exams can be expensive if you don’t have health insurance, so if you’re currently uninsured and want to be proactive about your health, enroll in a short term insurance plan until the next Open Enrollment Period comes around and you can get a major medical plan.
Clear the Mental Fog
Getting healthier includes taking care of your mind along with your body. If you’ve ever felt more down in winter, you’re not alone. Science offers some guidance on why it happens. Studies show that the brain produces more serotonin when the sun is shining than on gray, cloudy days. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter chemical, produces feelings of happiness and well-being. When the brain doesn’t make enough serotonin, you become depressed, lose your energy and take on a darker outlook on life. Lack of sunlight during winter can contribute to a recognized health condition called “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD), which can create depression, fatigue, sleep problems and mood changes, among other symptoms. SAD sufferers use light therapy to treat the condition.
To clear your mental fog, whether you suffer from SAD or the winter blues, take advantage of sunnier days in spring. Even if you don’t want to or can’t get outside and move more, consider opening a window or two in your home and letting in fresh air. Take a book outside and read at a park or on your own front porch. There are lots of ways to make good use of this fresher, brighter season.