Summer officially started in the US on June 21 and along with the better weather and longer days, the whole country can start to relax into the sunshine season. We all know that summertime makes us feel better, but for seniors in particular there are some specific health advantages that you might not get during the rest of the year. We look at the key benefits and explore how to make the most of them.
1) Vitamin D
Longer daylight hours and better weather instantly increases our chances of getting sun on our skin. The key health benefit of this is the boost in vitamin D it gives us, helping to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body – the nutrients needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin, and although vitamin D can be found in some food sources, such as oily fish, red meat and egg yolks, or taken as a supplement, when it is taken orally it is possible to take too much with detrimental effect, which isn’t the case with sunlight.
As we age, bone health becomes extremely important with increased risks of osteoporosis, and medical advice says we need to focus on eating foods rich in calcium and protein, and keep optimum levels of vitamin to help the body absorb the calcium.
Of course it is important to regulate how much time we spend in the sun, especially during the hottest times of day, and to wear sunscreen to protect our skin from over exposure to UVA and UVB which can cause skin cancer. Even with sunscreen it is possible to absorb enough sunlight to feel the vitamin D benefits.
2) Exercise (without even knowing it)
Exercise is important to the health of people of all ages, but especially so in seniors to maintain strength of muscles and bones and to stay supple and flexible.
In the winter months exercise can be notoriously unappealing with nature telling us to hunker down and stay warm. In the summer though it is much easier to get out and get fit, often without even meaning to! Spending time outside in the backyard tending to plants can mean digging, pruning, and mowing the grass, which are all good forms of exercise. A trip to the beach can involve playing games with the grandkids or going for a swim to cool off. Going on a picnic or excursion can require a lot of walking. And so in just enjoying the summer weather you may find that you are getting more exercise.
If you are someone who likes to take regular exercise, be that running, a weekly swim, or yoga, the summer can make the experience so much more enjoyable. Street running on a summer evening is a world away from running through wind and rain, leaving the local swimming pool with wet hair isn’t a problem in the summer, and one of the most enjoyable yoga experiences is classes held in open spaces out of doors.
3) Lower stress
It’s well documented that the winter months can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD), caused by short daylight hours, bad weather and dark mornings, and leads to feelings of tiredness, low mood or depression and stress. So the opposite is true in the summer time. Older people can be particularly prone to SAD, especially those who no longer work, as office workers might benefit from bright office lights and the sense of routine. In the summer however, the weather and light make for a natural anti-depressant.
Lack of good quality sleep is often a key factor in stress levels, and during the summer the increased activity as well as fresh air can mean that it is easier to get a good night’s sleep. However, in hot weather make sure that the air con is set to a comfortable temperature overnight, or put a fan by an open window, and make sure you have black out blinds to avoid the early sunrise waking you before you’re ready.
4) Vacation at home
Many seniors find they have more time on their hands and have dreams of seeing more of the country or travelling the world. In the winter months you might need to travel further afield to see sights at their best, crossing time zones, enduring long journeys or flights, and dealing with the inconvenience of packing and unpacking.
During the summer it’s easy to have the same vacation feeling whilst staying in the comfort of your own home. Day trips out to local places of interest are made all the better for good weather, and even an afternoon relaxing in the backyard can have a vacation vibe when the sun is shining. Make the most of the summer to save your money, save the hassle, and enjoy vacationing in your own neighborhood.
5) Summertime menu
When the weather is dull and evenings are dark the body’s natural instinct is to load with carbs, and fatty and sugary foods. According to researchers it’s a hangover from when food was less available in the winter months, meaning that we take on enough calories and nutrients to get us through the cold season. However, this craving is now redundant in our plentiful lives where food is readily available.
Thankfully the in the summer our natural cravings generally change. Increased levels of sunshine mean that our appetite lessens and we favor foods with more vitamins, such as fruit and vegetables. It is common for hot weather to suppress our appetite further, which means that salads are a great meal option.
It is vital that seniors get a good balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals to support the health of skin, bones, muscles, and organs. In summer, with such an abundance of freshly grown fruit and vegetables it is really easy to eat the five portions that is recommended.