Feel-Good Friday: Summer is Good for You Edition

Summer makes us feel better. It’s science.

Sure, where I live on the Gulf Coast, it gets fiery hot, and humid. There is hurricane season to take into consideration. Mosquitoes will feast on you. But never mind all that. Going outside and feeling some sunshine on your face and breathing some fresh air will boost your mood. 

Sunshine makes a positive impact. Summer feels less stressful as we move into a more leisurely pace of life. Put on some Beach Boys tunes and it’s an instant mood elevator. Happy vibes everywhere. The boys of summer have brought us happiness since the 60s. 

Summer months give us the longest daylight hours. Scientific evidence shows that the amount of light we are exposed to during our waking hours impacts our bodies. A scientist with the National Institute of Mental Health studies light and circadian rhythms. His team established a link between light and specific areas of the brain in 2018. The areas are involved with emotion, reward, and decision-making. 

“You need as much sunlight as you can get. If you can, go outside even if it’s cold,” said Hattar. “Don’t expose yourself to bright light at night. Being exposed to bright light at night will block melatonin production, a hormone your brain produces in response to darkness. Melatonin helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms and with sleep.”

Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” is produced by our skin when it is exposed to sunlight. It is essential for a healthy immune system, calcium absorption, and bone strength. It also fights off diseases. 

There is a wider array of healthy fruits and vegetables because produce cycles benefit from longer hours of light. More exposure to sunlight helps the body produce and regulate melatonin. That plays a vital role in sleep cycles and the quality of sleep. 

More sunlight means more physical mobility. More people take walks or go for a swim. Exercise decreases stress levels lessen and elevates moods. Even just a walk around the block is good. 

The American Psychological Association research established that time spent outdoors in nature offers cognitive benefits. It improves working memory, attentional functioning, cognitive flexibility, and additional control. 

One piece of advice is given that vacations are important. Even if you don’t have the means or ability to travel, taking time off goes a long way to keep burnout at bay.

The link between stress levels and higher instances of sickness and disease is well established. Per the Physicians Regional Healthcare System, a study by the World Health Organization linked 745,000 deaths from stroke and heart disease in 2016 with working longer hours. The study noted that people who worked more than 55 hours per week had a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of death from heart disease than people who worked 35-40 hours a week.

“Rest and recovery is important to your physical and mental health and that includes short breaks during regular days and totally disconnecting by taking a vacation from time to time,” said Dr. George Yiachos, who specializes in cardiovascular disease. “There is a large body of evidence that shows your body and brain need time to recharge. When we fail to take time off, we are more likely to suffer burnout, frustration, stress, and even serious health issues.”

Avoid overdoing your time in the sun, though. Keep hydrated and avoid heat stroke. Wear sunscreen to protect your skin. 

Here are some basic suggestions – I like the last one the most. Have some ice cream. 

  • Prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of water.
  • Wear a hat when outside for any significant amount of time, even if the sun doesn’t feel particularly intense.
  • Be diligent in applying sunscreen to any exposed areas of your body.
  • Save physical activities — like gardening, yardwork, walking in the neighborhood, etc. — for either the morning or later in the evening when the heat is less intense.
  • Certain medications may come with side effects if you’re exposed to heat and sunlight, so be sure to talk to your doctor about risks that may be associated with any medication you’re on.
  • Keep your home cool by closing doors and windows and utilizing fans and air conditioning when temperatures rise.
  • Indulge in a scoop of ice cream every now and then to trigger your sweet taste receptors and take your brain down memory lane. 

Ice cream makes everything better. It’s good for your brain. 

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