These days, most Americans are online every day, with over one-quarter saying they are online “almost constantly” and 43% claiming to be online “several times a day.”1
Unfortunately, being online all the time (yes, guilty here, too!) has health consequences. A recent study, published in IEEE Access, found that common physical complaints associated with frequent Internet usage included dry eye, worsening vision and cervical pain, as well as headaches, poor sleep and weight gain.2
As humans, we’re not meant to sit for hours, hunched over a small screen amid fluorescent light. Not while the sun is shining, the grass is green, and the flowers are in bloom. Nature is calling!
Use this time to rediscover these 8 simple summer pleasures that allow the body to de-stress and reset.
1. Go earthing.
Also known as “grounding”, earthing is the simple act of walking barefoot on a natural surface—dirt, pesticide-free grass (so don’t do this on a golf course!), forest soil, or beach sand—which helps lower oxidative stress and inflammation.
How it works… Our bodies generate electricity. Atoms that are made up of positively charged protons, negatively charged electrons and neutrally charged neutrons that are inside our bodies.
Oxidation is a natural process that occurs when oxygen interacts with cells of any kind. For example, apple slices that turn brown after being exposed to oxygen are an example of “oxidation”. Atoms that have been exposed to oxygen will “break” and end up with unpaired electrons, creating unstable molecules called “free radicals”. Having too many free radicals in your body can damage DNA and cell membranes, leading to chronic diseases and conditions. What causes free radical stress? Exposure to pollution, cigarettes, pesticides, trans fats and radiation from cell phones, computers and Wi-Fi, all of which deplete the body of electrons.
Walking barefoot in soil, grass or sand allows any excess charge in your body to discharge into the earth, relieving the body of excess stress. Studies have found that grounding appears to improve sleep, reduce pain, reduce stress, speed wound healing and help calm and relax the body.3, 4
Ocean water is rich in magnesium, a mineral that plays a vital role in the production of energy, regulating blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels, nerve and muscle function.5
Although magnesium is our body’s fourth most abundant mineral, the vast majority of Americans are magnesium deficient due to nutrient-depleted soils, processed foods, high-sugar diets, alcohol and living stressful lives (stress and sugar rapidly deplete magnesium).
Swimming in the ocean—or just jumping into the sea—is an efficient way to absorb magnesium (through the skin); this also helps relax the body. Magnesium is a critical “calming” mineral, potent in its ability to alleviate stress.
Forest bathing is the newest trend in nature therapy. It is, essentially, a meditative approach to taking a walk in the woods.
The practice of forest bathing began in the 1980s in Japan, where it is called “shinrin-yoku” and an important part of preventative health care in Japanese medicine. The goal of forest bathing is to slow down and tune into your natural surroundings by noticing the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. The idea is to be present and to use all of your senses. This is not an athletic “hike”.
In his study of ancient Japanese forests, Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University found that taking a leisurely 40-minute walk in the forest was associated with improved mood and feelings of health and robustness. Other research has shown that forest environments can help improve mood and sleep, significantly lower the stress hormone cortisol and boost immune function.6 7
4. Soak up some sun.
Sun exposure—without sunscreen—has many health benefits, from enhancing your immune system, lowering blood pressure and improving brain function, to synchronizing your circadian rhythm (thereby improving sleep quality), lowering the risk of certain cancers and having a protective effect on heart health.8
Sun exposure is also the most efficient way for your body to produce Vitamin D naturally (most Americans are deficient in Vitamin D3). Having adequate levels of Vitamin D3 is key for immune system function, bone health, fighting disease, weight management, as well as reducing depression and anxiety.9
We’ve been taught to fear the sun and to lather our face and body in sunscreen as protection from skin cancer. However, studies now suggest that sun avoidance actually raisesyour risk of skin cancer, while higher levels of vitamin D levels from regular UVB exposure are protective.10
That said, if you want to optimize your Vitamin D levels—on bare skin without sunscreen—it is essential to practice safe sun. Wear a hat or cap to protect the delicate skin around the eyes. Expose as much bare skin as possible for 15 to 20 minutes, between 11am and 1pm, in August. Gradually increase the time you spend in the sun. Keep in mind, fairer skin needs less sun exposure; darker skin can tolerate more. Alwaysavoidsunburn.
Exception: If you are extremely fair, or have a sun sensitivity, it may be best to avoid the sun.
5. Sleep in. Take a nap.
One of the most delicious things you can for your body is to sleep in (when you’re able). Or, take an afternoon nap, perhaps, outdoors in a hammock or a chaise amid a screened-in porch.
Sleep enhances performance, memory, creativity—and helps with weight loss. If you are chronically stressed, or if you always burn the midnight oil, you likely have sleep deficiency. Lack of quality sleep raises the level of inflammation in your body; inflammation is the root of many chronic diseases, from diabetes to heart disease. Sleeping in can be healing to the body.
Studies have also found naps to be beneficial for heart health. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicinefound that people who napped during the day—at least 30 minutes, 3x or more a week—had nearly a 40% decreased risk of death from heart disease.11, 12 Researchers at Allegheny College found that study participants who napped at least45 minutes during the day had lower blood pressure—even after experiencing mental stressors—than those who did not nap.13
6. Eat food naked.
To be clear…your food is naked—not you! Quality meats, fish and produce are at peak flavor in the summer. Out of habit, tradition or trend, we often mask the real taste and texture of our food with processed sugar, salt and/or other “stuff”. Think ketchup (high sugar), soy sauce (high sodium, GMO, contains soy and gluten, common allergenic foods), sriracha sauce (sugar is a top ingredient, high in sulfites and preservatives), etc. Flavoring your food with store-bought condiments, salad dressings, marinades or barbecue sauces adds more calories, more sugar, unpronounceable chemical-sounding ingredients, additives and preservatives to your food, and adds to your body’s stress load.
Get to know your food naked…swap out a peach cobbler for an organic, ripe, juicy peach. Pass on store-bought marinara sauce (even those labeled “organic”) and make your own with ripe organic tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil. Instead of a pre-made salad from the deli, have a salad of organic mixed greens from the farmers market, add fresh herbs or edible flowers, like nasturtium, and toss with olive oil and raw apple cider vinegar. Tenderize grilled chicken with lemon olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs instead of using a pre-made or store-bought marinade or rub.
A whole foods-based cleanse, like my 7-Day Body Reset Cleanse, is another great way to help get the processed stuff out and more real food into your body.
Hot weather can fuel cravings for frozen treats (hello ice cream!) and frozen alcoholic drinks. More than an occasional indulgence, however, can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and your waistline. A better option? Healthy homemade frozen treats! I love making homemade popsicles—my favorite combination is organic mango, coconut milk and ginger. Just three ingredients; no added sugar, preservatives, food dyes or other additives. Ripe mango, itself, is sweet, and a perfect foil for the spicy ginger heat. And I like to use these nifty stainless steel popsicle molds. My go-to for “ice cream” is banana-chocolate chip “ice cream”. Throw frozen banana into a food processor, garnish with raw cacao nibs—and instant bliss! By making your own “ice cream”, you can avoid added sugars, mystery ingredients and other potential unknowns of store-bought brands (like the controversial herbicide glyphosphate found in samples of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream last summer).
When the heat holds you hostage, chill out by sipping an herbal iced tea. But rather than chugging down a bottled ice tea, often a source of hidden sugars and additives, consider making your own herbal iced tea.
One of my favorites is iced red tea, featuring antioxidant- and mineral-rich rooibos tea, grown mostly in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
Summer herbs, with digestion-enhancing properties, that can be used to make delicious iced herbal teas include mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, basil and lemongrass. If these herbs aren’t growing in your garden already (or you don’t have a garden), you can easily find them at local farmers’ markets and, often, at the supermarket.
Making an iced herbal tea is simple. Place a generous handful of fresh herbs (rinse first) in a heatproof bowl. Boil water (apx. 2 quarts or 8 cups), then pour over the herbs. Let steep about 15 minutes. Remove herbs. When cool, pour into a glass pitcher or glass mason jars. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, apx. 4 hours or more. If desired, garnish with slices of lemon or lime, cucumber or fresh herb leaves.
1 Pew Research Center. March 14, 2018
2 IEEE Access. Sept. 28, 2016
3 Journal of Inflammation Research. March 24, 2015
4 Journal of Environmental and Public Health. Jan. 12, 2012
5 Evidenced-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Dec. 26, 2016
6 NutriUnify. Dec. 22, 2015
7 Environmental Health Preventative Medicine. 2010 Jan; 15(1): 18-26
8, 9, 10 Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics. 2012 Apr-Jun; 3(2): 118-126
11 Harvard | School of Public Health. Feb. 12, 2007
12 Harvard Heart Letter. Sept. 2017
13 Science Daily. Feb. 28, 2011