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In the Hot Seat: Summer Wellness

We’ve all been there: as soon as mild springtime temperatures skyrocket into summertime heat and oppressive humidity, so too does our motivation to get fit, to exercise outdoors, and to immerse ourselves in nature plummet. It’s hard not to lose motivation when simply stepping outside causes you to break into a sweat. Add to the unpleasant sweatiness the very real danger of heat exhaustion and dehydration, and it’s easy to understand why even the best laid wellness plans go awry between the summer equinox and fall foliage.

Personally, I thrive in the summer – give me sweaty heat over frigid temps any day. But I realize I’m in the definite minority here, and in truth, the “ideal” running temperature – for maximum physiological efficiency and performance - is closer to 55 degrees than 95. That said, whether you live in the swampy Washington, DC area like me, or you’re in the drier heat of the Southwest US, there are ways to keep your healthy habits in place without spending hours outside in 100 degree temps!

· Take advantage of the early mornings…or late evenings. The worst heat and sun of the day tend to happen around midday, so squeezing

in your run or bike ride before the sun has fully risen – or after it has started its descent – can help make your workouts more pleasant.

· Embrace cross-training – I am, always have been, and always will be a runner first and foremost. But I can appreciate the benefits of cross-training for physiological reasons, and switching up your workouts can help alleviate the worst of the heat and sweating during the summer. Like swimming? Hit your local pool for some no-impact laps. Enjoy biking? Head out with the family or friends on a shaded path and stop halfway for lunch or coffee. Or give an indoor class a whirl – most gyms are back to pre-pandemic schedules, and there are ample options on offer. From yoga and Pilates to kick boxing and HIIT workouts.

· Summer vacations – just because you’re traveling and away from your home base doesn’t mean you can’t continue to pursue your healthy lifestyle goals. Personally, one of my favorite parts of traveling is running in new surroundings. One of the best ways to get to know a new place is to run or walk through it! That said, nobody wants a rigid training program to override vacation fun, so my recommendation? Commit to spending 30-60 minutes every day of your vacation doing something active. Get the whole family out for a walk on the beach, or drum up excitement over a mountain hike, give kayaking a try, or rent city bikes to peruse the unfamiliar neighborhoods.

· Safety first – sometimes, heading out in the middle of the day is unavoidable. And sometimes, running at 6am doesn’t actually feel much better than running at noon. Value your safety above your pace and make sure to apply sunscreen, carry water, and carry your phone and ID. In case the worst should happen, be prepared.

· Ticks galore – at least in my area, ticks are an unfortunate reality for anyone spending time outdoors. I’ve picked my fair share off both myself and my kids (and dog) and, while these tiny parasites are fairly harmless if caught early, there are very legitimate, serious issues that can arise if they aren’t removed. Including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

· Shake up your hydration strategy by including some healthy summer soup recipes and other hydrating foods.

· Keep the summer barbeques alcohol-free – or minimal. Not to be Debbie Downer here, but alcohol can cause serious dehydration if consumed in large quantities, and you place your health at risk if you imbibe heavily the night before a run. So go ahead and have a drink or two, but make sure to have a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage – and know when to stop.

· Planning for fall goals – if you are someone who really struggles with the heat and find you have to cut back on your fitness routine, that’s ok! Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, use that extra time to work on planning your fall wellness goals – and very specific steps and benchmarks to aspire to along the way. The best way to reach a goal, after all, is to set out a specific, measurable path!

Ultimately, we all respond to and cope with summer weather differently. But with a little advance planning and a positive attitude, your fitness and wellness goals don’t have to take a back seat to staying cool.

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