how to stay healthy in summer season- Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD

How to Stay Healthy in Summer Season: 6 Holistic Health Tips

As I’m writing this, the sunflowers are everywhere here in Austin, which means summer 2021 is now upon us!  (Speaking as a “summer solstice” baby and subsequent Cancer crab who loves the beach, summer is most definitely my favorite season!) 😎  That being said, if you’re looking for some holistic and timeless ways to stay healthy during the summer season, keep reading!

Getting through 2020 and now transitioning out of the pandemic (finally), I’ve seen a drastic shift in our healthcare paradigm, which I truly believe is for the better.

More people than ever before are realizing how important it is to take care of ourselves not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  From a holistic nutrition perspective, our body is essentially viewed as the vessel that holds our soul!

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin

Words of wisdom to say the least!  When it comes to our health, I’m all about being pro-active versus re-active whenever possible, just because it makes everything else so much easier.

  • Just like we (hopefully) wouldn’t wait until our car has 100,000 miles on it to get an oil change, we also shouldn’t wait until our health is in a state of crisis to start living more holistically!

Speaking of holistic living, below are 6 of my top favorite holistic ways to stay healthy during the summer season and beyond.

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(Updated July 11, 2022)

1. Plan ahead

How many times have you successfully made great food choices when you waited until you were starving (or “hangry”) to decide what to eat?!

Although the summer season can mean a lot less structured time, we don’t need to adopt the “all bets are off” mindset when it comes to meal planning.

It just takes a little extra thought and intention! The key is to always stay at least one meal (or snack) ahead of yourself.

The night before or the morning of, take a look at your schedule for that day.  Do a quick inventory of what types of foods you have on-hand to work with. (Or if you’ll be out, make note of which healthy options will be nearby, so you can stop and grab something nourishing/tasty!)

A few questions to consider can include:

  • Where will you be?
  • What times are open for you to have meal/snack breaks?
  • What kinds of food will you have access to at those times?
  • What do you need to stock up on, or keep in your bag before you leave the house?

While it may seem trivial, the simple act of planning meals regularly is a habit that will most definitely serve you for many years to come!

2. Honor your preferences

Going to cookouts and beaches this summer?  Do yourself a favor, and ditch the rabbit food.

Instead, bring dishes that you actually LOVE, made with foods that also happen to nourish and support your body!

For example, I find that most cookouts and BBQ’s are plentiful in meat, rolls, pasta salad.  To balance those types of foods out, I’ll usually either bring a veggie dish or a healthified dessert – or one of each. 😀

Healthy summer BBQ and cookout ideas

Below are a few of my personal favorite BBQ/cookout-friendly meals, side-dishes and sweet treats you might enjoy:

Healthy beach lunch tips

I you’re going to the beach, I recommend bringing a balanced lunch that contains something from every food group.

For example, consider packing your favorite sandwich on whole grain/gluten free bread (whatever works for you), with a side of fresh veggie sticks and some hummus.

  • That’s just ONE example – there are really infinite balanced lunch options for a beach getaway. Take the time to figure out what you like, and what works best for you.  Trust me – you’ll feel SO much better when you have a nourishing meal to keep you going!

3. Shield

If you’re wondering how to keep skin healthy during the summer, make sure you don’t skip this section! After all, there’s nothing worse than getting eaten alive by mosquitos while trying to enjoy a hot summer night around the fire pit with friends… except maybe a sunburn. 😎

Below are a few of my favorite holistic lifestyle strategies for maintaining healthy skin throughout the entire summer season each year.

DIY Herbal Mosquito Repellant

Unfortunately most of the commercial bug sprays out there are loaded with chemicals that are not just toxic to bugs but also technically toxic to human cells.  Our skin is semi-permeable and will absorb lots of the chemicals in topical products (1).  This is why things like hormonal birth control patches and nicotine patches work, after all!

Once in a while isn’t a big deal, but if you like to go camping or hang outside all summer long, you may benefit from the following herbal mosquito repellant which is considered natural and non-toxic.

  • 8 oz. Catnip hydrosol with a few drops of  Citronella essential oil
    • Just a few drops of citronella oil per bottle of catnip hydrosol is a wonderful herbal go-to for repelling mosquitoes and other bugs! Simple, safe, easy, natural and EFFECTIVE.

DIY Herbal Mosquito Repellant - Catnip and Citronella

Catnip is safe and gentle enough for children, but powerful enough to work better than commercial bug sprays as a natural mosquito repellant.  To boot, Iowa State University found catnip to be 10x more effective at repelling bugs compared to toxic DEET! (2)

If you’ve got a green thumb and love to garden, you can even take some fresh catnip leaves and just keep them in your pocket!  (This is a tactic I learned from a few of my fellow herbalists.)

Commercial non-toxic bug spray

Keeping mosquitoes away without negatively impacting your liver or environment is truly the best of both worlds!  If you’d prefer to buy a ready-made herbal mosquito repellant, you might enjoy Pure Haven Essentials Bug Off Spray which contains citronella, lemongrass, and peppermint as the active ingredients.

Natural sunscreen

I’m also an advocate for wearing sunscreen!  Protecting our skin from sun damage not only helps prevent melanoma (skin cancer) but it also makes us look a whole lot younger down the road…

The catch: Like commercial bug sprays, most mainstream sunscreens on the market are laden with carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) that can leak into the blood through our skin (3). Lots of these chemicals are actually banned in the UK and Australia.  (As I mentioned, the skin is more permeable/”sponge-like” than we realize.)

  • My favorite natural sunscreens for the beach or for going out on walks are Beautycounter or Pure Haven Essentials, and I personally use Just Jill Cosmetics SunShield Mineral Moisturizer for my face!
    • These are a few examples of sunscreens made with all-natural ingredients that our body knows how to handle.  I have no professional affiliation with any of those sunscreen companies; they’re just in alignment with my core values and health standards. There are a lot of different options out there!

Healthline also has a few great safe and simple sunscreen recipes.

  • Ultimately, some sunscreen is better than none (chemicals or not), since about 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer at some point in life according to Healthline.

4.  Get moving

Don’t get me wrong – it’s always great to have the opportunity to go for a walk or get outside on a beautiful day!

But what do you do when it’s rainy, cold or crappy out?

Or if you live in Texas like me… what do you do for basically the entire summer when it’s triple digits outside and you find yourself getting tan-lines after going outside just to check the mail? I speak from personal experience!!

What I’m getting at here is there can always be a reason not to exercise, but when there’s a will, there’s always a way. Rain or shine, Boston snow storms or Texas heat, house or apartment or RV, I’ve never let that stop me from staying active.  To each their own, but just sayin!

There are INFINITE ways to get moving.  What constitutes “movement” is on an entire spectrum.

Movement can range from light stretching or chair yoga, to walking or gardening, to swimming, tennis, workout classes, personal training, exercise videos, running, or something totally different!

There’s no right or wrong way to move your body! The key is that you enjoy it, it’s sustainable, and it works well for you.

How to stay fit and active during the summer:

  • On beautiful sunny days, there’s nothing better than getting outside on foot or on a bike, around the neighborhood or a lake, in the woods or at a local park! (Location-specific.)
  • If you live near some kind of water – (lucky you!) – swimming is ahh-mazing, has zero impact on your joints and can be a great way to work every muscle in your body!
  • On busy or rainy days, a quick workout video or yoga class or a even few sets of lunges can make a huge difference!

It’s not about how LONG or how INTENSE our activity is, but how CONSISTENT we are. 

  • For me personally, as little as 5 to 15 minutes of movement is enough to drastically improve my sleep, focus, energy, mood, and stress management.

Bottom line:  Find a few fun different summer-friendly activities you enjoy, and make them a part of your lifestyle!

5.  Stay hydrated

A general rule of thumb is about 8 glasses or 64 oz. per day, or ~2 to 3 liters.  Your individual water requirements may be higher if you’re very physically active (especially high intensity exercise) or out in the heat, or it may be reduced if you’re on a medical fluid restriction (such as in cases of kidney disease or heart failure.)

How can you tell if you’re dehydrated or too hydrated?

  • If you’re already thirsty, you’re likely mildly dehydrated. Time for a big glass of water!
  • If you’re peeing every 20 minutes and it’s completely clear, you’re probably over-doing it.

What type of water is best?

I love Mountain Valley spring water which is clean, naturally rich in minerals, tastes great, and it comes in glass bottles versus plastic. This would be my first choice when I’m out, if it’s available (which it isn’t very often).  Plastic is a conversation for another time! Although I do still consume things that come wrapped or bottled in plastic, I also try to be proactive for our environment and for hormones’ sake.  Plastic is also high in estrogen-like substances which are endocrine disruptors.

  • The catch:  bottled water can get pretty expensive, pretty quickly!

Big Berkey Water Filter

My #1 choice for environmentally and financially sustainable clean water is a Berkey water filter.

In the U.S., lots fluoride is added to tap water in the U.S. as a way to keep the water clean, along with chlorine!

Although fluoride and chlorine are necessary for preventing bacterial growth in our tap water, at the same time I’d rather not be consuming large quantities of those on-the-reg.

  • Fluoride and chlorine are halogens which can displace iodine in the body. (4)
    • What this means: too much fluoride or chlorine is not great for our thyroid!  This might be something to consider if you have any kind of thyroid disorder.
  • Fluoride and chlorine also have a negative impact on our gut microbes (the bacteria that live in our gut).
    • Think about it – why do we add chlorine to a swimming pool?
  • Fluoride consumption over time has been shown to calcify our pineal gland. (5).
    • The pineal gland is a soybean-sized gland in the center of our brain. It regulates sleep, hormones, neurotransmitters, circadian rhythms, and much more!

That said, most mainstream water filters (like Brita) do NOT remove fluoride! But they do get rid of chlorine.

We use the “Big Berkey” water filter in my household, but feel free to do your own research and make your own informed decisions about the water you drink!

Some fluoride is needed for supporting healthy teeth and bones; just not as much as we’re made to believe.  In the U.S. we tend to consume ridiculously large quantities of fluoride and not have better dental outcomes compared to other countries that don’t add synthetic fluoride to their water.  (6)

We can still get enough fluoride in moderation when dining at restaurants and café’s:

  • Restaurants and café’s use tap water to make coffee, tea, soups, cooking rice, etc. So don’t worry about not getting enough fluoride if you start using a Berkey filter!

Fluoride, chlorine and tap water aside… hydrating with tap water is MUCH better than not drinking enough water!

How to stay hydrated in the summer: 6 hydration tips

  1. Drink more decaf/herbal tea
  2. Squeeze some fresh citrus into your water
  3. Try carbonated water
  4. Sip on fresh cold-pressed juices
  5. Add fresh herbs (like basil) to your glass of water
  6. Add some sliced cucumber to your water pitcher

6.  Stay cool!

Did you know that certain types of herbs can help to cool the body off internally, or help prevent us from over-heating?  This is an example of “herbal energetics”, a practice which focuses on categorizing and selecting certain herbal plant medicines based on the specific actions they have on the body relative to what a person needs.

Below are 6 of my go-to herbs to help cool off an over-heated body, based on my studies in Ayurveda, western clinical herbalism, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).  I’ve also included some ideas on how you can incorporate them into your holistic lifestyle during the summer season!

Body-cooling herbs for the summertime

  1. Cilantro: Add some cilantro to a summer soup, or top your guacamole with a handful of fresh cilantro.
  2. Basil:  Enjoy as part of some Caprese salad or homemade pesto! Or add some fresh muddled garden basil to your cocktail/mocktail.
  3. Stinging nettle: Steep 1 tablespoon dried nettle leaves in ~12 to 16 oz. water, for at least 15 to 20 minutes.  Drink ~6 oz. of nettle tea infusions a few times a day.
    • Note:  Nettle is a diuretic and will lower blood pressure so don’t go overboard and DON’T use this one to hydrate after a workout!
  4. Peach leaves: these cool us off internally, whether taken as a tea or tincture! Tea is more fun.
    • Peach leaf tea: when you go peach picking, also fill a paper grocery bag with peach leaves from peach trees (with permission). Dry the leaves and then steep a few tablespoons in ~12-16 oz. hot water for at least 15-20 minutes or up to a few hours.  You can even make it into iced peach leaf tea which makes a lovely summer beverage!
  5. Peppermint: Make a cup of peppermint tea with fresh or dried peppermint leaves to have after a meal!  Not only will this cool you off but peppermint tea will also support healthy digestion.
  6. Fennel: this is also a wonderful cooling herb that supports healthy digestion!  Try some fennel tea or this fennel-cucumber salsa.

How to stay healthy during the summer: recap and next steps

As you’ve probably learned by now, there are multiple ways to stay healthy during the summertime!  From a holistic perspective, it’s important to take into account all aspects of our health – not just what we eat or what we are putting on our skin.

  • It’s helpful to plan ahead and honor your mental and emotional needs, in terms of making food choices you actually enjoy!
    • Meal planning in ways that align with what I refer to as the “holistic nutrition fundamentals” helps ensure that you’re giving your body what it needs, not just in terms of macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fat and calories) but from a micronutrient (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) standpoint.
  • Holistic skincare via natural and non-toxic skin products can help you to shield and protect your skin, from both bugs and sunburns!
  • Choosing activities that feel natural, enjoyable, and aligned with your body’s unique energetics is the most sustainable way to stay actvie during the summertime.
  • Staying hydrated in the heat is possible and encouraged! The best way to hydrate during the summertime and year-round is with clean, filtered water.
    • Jazzing up your beverages with some fresh citrus, herbs, and/or carbonation can go a long way too!
  • Incorporate cooling herbs that help reduce internal heat, so you’ll feel more comfortable and refreshed during the hot summer months.

I hope you enjoy your summer in whatever ways feed your soul, fill your cup and bring you lots of joy.  We all deserve that!

If you found this article interesting or helpful, please feel free to share it!

XO – Jenna

References:

  1. Nielsen JB, Benfeldt E, Holmgaard R. Penetration through the Skin Barrier. Curr Probl Dermatol. 2016;49:103-11. doi: 10.1159/000441549. Epub 2016 Feb 4. PMID: 26844902. 
  2. Coats, Joel, and Barbara McManus. “Catnip Captures Attention as a Mosquito Repellent.” College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University of Science and Technology, 25 July 2012, www.cals.iastate.edu/news/releases/catnip-captures-attention-mosquito-repellent.
  3. Goodman, Brenda. “FDA Sunscreen Report Raises Concern Over Chemicals.” WebMD, WebMD, 21 Jan. 2020, www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/news/20200121/fda-skin-absorbs-dangerous-sunscreen-chemicals.
  4. “The Halogens: Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine, Iodine and Astatine.” Chemistry of the Elements, 1997, pp. 789–887., doi:10.1016/b978-0-7506-3365-9.50023-7.
  5. Tan, Dun Xian et al. “Pineal Calcification, Melatonin Production, Aging, Associated Health Consequences and Rejuvenation of the Pineal Gland.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 23,2 301. 31 Jan. 2018, doi:10.3390/molecules23020301 
  6. “Is Fluoridated Drinking Water Safe?” Harvard Public Health Magazine, 22 June 2018, www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/fluoridated-drinking-water/.