The Science-Backed Reasons You're Legitimately Happier and Healthier In the Summer
Here’s why—and more importantly, how—to maximize the natural sunshine high.
Summer brings out the best in everyone-and that's a scientific fact. "You are genetically hardwired to experience positive chemical changes in your brain as the season begins," says Betul Hatipoglu, M.D., who works in the department of endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism at Cleveland Clinic. (On the other hand, it's possible to have summer anxiety or summertime SAD.)
Mentally, you're at your peak now. Your mood, energy, and focus improve, you're more relaxed, and "you feel an overall sense of health and happiness," says Frank Lipman, M.D., the author of How to Be Well and a member of the Shape Brain Trust.
Another powerful transformation that happens: Your metabolism speeds up. "In the summer your body becomes less insulin resistant," says Dr. Hatipoglu, meaning that it uses glucose for energy more efficiently so that you naturally burn more calories.
The longer days and warm weather help drive some of these changes. Exposure to copious amounts of natural light during the day boosts mood and productivity and helps you sleep better at night. Abundant sunshine allows your skin to produce optimum levels of vitamin D, which delivers a host of wellness benefits, including more stamina, stronger bones, and a reduced risk of disease. And the season's fresh fruits and vegetables supply your body with extra vitamins and antioxidants. Plus, you're spending time outdoors and getting together with friends more frequently, and both have an incredibly powerful effect on your well-being and mood, says Dr. Lipman.
Most of these perks happen automatically as summer begins. But you can maximize their effects-and even keep them going into fall. These three strategies will help you do just that.
1. Make the sunshine work for you.
You're getting more vitamin D from the sun, but unless you're taking in enough magnesium-more than 50 percent of adults are not-your system may not be using it as efficiently as it should be, according to a new review in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. "Vitamin D must be metabolized in the liver and kidneys to bene t the body, and the enzymes that help the activation process need magnesium [in order to be functional]," says study author Mohammed Razzaque, Ph.D. He suggests adding more magnesium-rich foods to your diet, including leafy greens, seeds, nuts, and grains. To hit the recommended 310 to 320 milligrams a day, you need to eat six ounces of raw spinach (135 milligrams), 1⁄4 cup of almonds (108 milligrams), and 1⁄2 cup of cooked amaranth grains (80 milligrams). (Here: more on the benefits of magnesium and how to get more of it in your diet)
2. Step up your weekdays.
We're more active in the summer, thanks to the weather and our extra energy. But most of that activity happens on the weekends, according to a study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. On weekdays, people don't move much more in the summer than they do in the winter. But there's a quick fix for that: Add just two or three 10-minute periods of exercise into each workday, and you'll be more focused and less stressed, says Dr. Lipman. Make it a habit, and those small hits of exercise will keep your energy high year-round. (Related: How to Master the Lunch-Time Workout)
3. Schedule your superfoods.
In the summer, farmers markets are stocked with just-picked fruits and vegetables that are rich with vitamin C, phytonutrients, and antioxidants like lycopene, says Dr. Hatipoglu. Make sure to load up on the most nutritious of the bunch all season: berries (especially wild ones), stone fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, arugula, corn, and chard. (Try these no-cook summer sides.) Come fall, though, you'll need to change up your diet. Research shows that once a food is no longer in season in your area, it can lose up to half its nutrients. Rotate squash, broccoli, and apples into your autumn meals, and in the winter, load up on locally grown produce like carrots, beets, and citrus. That way, you'll always get the optimal amounts of vitamins and minerals.