Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
Many of us have been conditioned to start healthy habits with the new year, but you don’t have to wait until January 1 to make new healthy choices.
It might even be easier to establish healthy habits during the spring and summer months, when the weather is warmer and the days feel longer.
Five healthy habits to start any time of year include: making whole-foods based meals, moving more and sitting less, creating a sleep routine, putting limits on screen time, and practicing the mind-body connection.
If you’ve already got those down, finding ways to do heat and cold exposure can push your health to the next level.
It’s never too late to prioritize your health with healthy habits!
When the end of December rolls around, it can be fun and inspiring to set health goals for the new year. But how many of us end up quickly abandoning the new diet, exercise routine, or sleep schedule before the month is out? Especially if you live in a wintry climate during the beginning of the year, low temperatures and dark days can make it even more difficult for many of us to start healthy new habits and stick to them.
So why not use the summer weather in our favor and reevaluate our healthy habits during the summer months? Warmer weather, longer days, farmers markets, and fun summer outdoor activities practically make it easy to start some new healthy habits and stick to them. Then, when the weather starts getting colder again, you’ll already have those habits locked in and won’t have to worry about trying to force yourself to start something new and daunting on January 1st.
Here are my top 5 healthy habits (plus one bonus habit) to dial in during the summer so that you can reap the benefits year-round.
1. Practice Making Meals with Whole, Nutrient-Dense Foods
If you’re starting from square one, the first thing I encourage everyone to do is focus on a whole foods, anti-inflammatory diet. Eating a whole foods diet means that you are primarily (read: not 100% of the time, but most of the time) consuming single-ingredient fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, legumes, whole grains, and animal foods, and creating nutrient-dense meals out of these ingredients. To keep things interesting and diversify the nutrients in your meals, you also choose a variety of colors and textures in your food.
This means you are eating few to no processed foods on a regular basis, and you are also limiting alcohol and excess sugar. Of course, you can enjoy an alcoholic beverage or a dessert from time to time, but it’s not something you do every day.
The health benefits of eating a whole foods anti-inflammatory diet include [1, 2, 3, 4]:
Supporting a healthy immune system
Supporting overall heart health and preventing heart disease
Blood pressure management
Promoting mental well-being
Promoting gut health and a balanced microbiome
And these are just the basics. Basically, healthy eating is the foundation of your overall health, so in terms of health habits, start here. If making all of your meals this way sounds intimidating, focus on one whole foods meal per day to start. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, choose whatever is easiest for you. Meal prepping your ingredients ahead of time or preparing a large batch of one meal to eat for the next few days is totally allowed!
Here are some great cookbooks to get you started or spark some inspiration for creating healthy, nutrient-dense meals:
Next Level: Already eat a whole foods diet? Here’s your next challenge: focus on protein intake. Out of the three macronutrients (protein, carb, and fat), I find that most people are drastically undereating the amount of protein they need for healthy energy, muscle building and maintenance, and maintaining a healthy weight [5, 6]. Eating enough protein becomes especially important as we age, to maintain muscle mass and mobility .
As a general guideline, you want to aim for at least 0.65 grams of protein per pound of body weight [8, 9]. This means a good protein goal for a woman who weighs 130 lbs would be about 85 grams per day. However, this is on the lower end of an optimal protein intake. If you are more active or trying to build muscle, you likely need more, in the range of 0.8 up to 1.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
2. Move More, Sit Less
Movement and physical activity remain one of the most important things you can do for your physical and mental health . Exercise may be even more important than diet from a longevity perspective . If you’re just getting started with (or getting back to) a consistent exercise routine, there’s no better time than summer to start a walking habit. Yes, it can be that simple!
There are so many benefits to walking every day (or as often as you can commit to), including better circulation, cardiovascular health, mobility, and even aligning your spine and relieving back pain. When you’re able to walk outside in nature and get some healthy sun exposure, that’s even better for your health and lowers stress levels.
Next Level: Challenge your muscles and build strength. Once you’re in the habit of moving every day, take it to the next level with strength training. Building and maintaining muscle is one of the best things you can do for your short and long-term health. Having adequate muscle mass improves your metabolism, keeps your energy levels up, and supports good mobility with aging. For a general exercise routine, you want to aim for a 1:1 ratio of cardio and strength training or even 1:2 cardio/strength for optimal health and longevity.
3. Prioritize Getting Good Quality Sleep
Getting good quality sleep is one habit that many of us (myself included!) find more difficult than anything else in a healthy lifestyle. While there are times in life where you’re simply going to get less than ideal sleep (a new baby, working night shift, etc.), for the most part, we should all make getting enough sleep a non-negotiable part of our lives .
The first step here is to set a consistent bedtime and wake time and stick to it, even on the weekends. Contrary to popular belief, it’s less important to force yourself to go to bed earlier or at a “normal time” than it is to simply stick to a consistent schedule. For example, if you typically go to bed at midnight and wake up at 8 am, that’s fine as long as you’re consistent with that schedule.
Once you know your ideal sleep schedule, build habits around it that help you get a good night’s sleep, such as turning off screens at least an hour before bed, reducing artificial light at night, and getting outdoor sunlight exposure within an hour of waking to set your circadian rhythm for the day. Again, summer can be a great time to instill these habits as we need less artificial light at night anyway, and it’s easier to go outside in the morning when you’re not greeted by six inches of snow and frigid temperatures.
Next Level: Track your sleep with an activity watch or ring. Even if you’re going to bed and getting up at the same time consistently, it can still be hard to tell whether we’re getting good quality sleep or not (especially if you often find yourself tired during the day without a clear reason). Tracking devices can help us get a better idea of our sleep quality, and then we can test out further measures to improve it (taking probiotics, lowering bedroom temperature, etc.). While none of these devices are perfect, they can provide helpful data if we struggle with sleep quality.
4. Put Limits on Screen Time
Surprised this one made it to the top 5? Yes, I believe managing your screen time is that important! There are research-backed reasons for lower screen time improving your health, but one of the biggest is that more screen time generally equals less movement, less quality sleep, and less social interaction, all of which negatively impact your health .
Many of us are accustomed to looking at a screen for 6–8 hours during the work day, and then ending the day with another several hours of watching TV or scrolling on our phones. Before you know it, you can easily be looking at a screen for 10+ hours a day! This is a habit that puts strain on our physical, mental, and even emotional health, especially if you’re doom scrolling all the time or constantly comparing your life to picturesque Instagram influencers.
The easiest way to start monitoring and reducing your screen time is to set a timer when using your phone or watching TV and then intentionally step away when the timer goes off. Around these times, make sure you have other activities lined up so that you know what you’re doing when you turn off the screen, and you’re less likely to simply ignore the timer. You can also set limits on the apps you use most often on your phone.
Next Level: Replace screen time with intentional social connection . Research tells us that social connection isn’t just good for our health, it’s essential. The stronger our real-life social connections are, the less susceptible we are to chronic disease, stress, and depression [13, 14]. The “loneliness epidemic” isn’t limited to a specific age group or gender, it affects us all if we don’t make time for developing social connectedness. Schedule a phone call with a friend or loved one, make dinner with your family, or go for a lunchtime walk with a coworker and step away from the screen.
5. Strengthen the Mind-Body Connection
By now, even Western medicine has caught up with the idea of the mind-body connection, and it seems the more we learn about mindfulness, the more important it becomes for our health and longevity. Research shows that mind-body activities like yoga, meditation, and the emotional freedom technique (EFT) have very real benefits like reducing stress, regulating the nervous system, and even healing depression and anxiety [15, 16, 17, 18].
But like any good habit, we have to practice connecting and being present in our bodies to strengthen that connection. Fortunately, there are many ways to do this, and even exercising while focusing on your movement and muscle contraction counts. You can also practice mindfulness in everyday activities like cooking, eating, conversation with family and friends, and prayer or gratitude practice.
Next Level: Commit to a meditation practice, yoga, emotional freedom technique, or another mind-body technique of your choice for 30 days. Reflect each week on how you feel and whether you notice an improvement in your quality of life.
Bonus: Experiment With Heat and Cold Exposure
Heat and cold exposure, such as sauna and cold plunge or simply taking very hot and cold showers, act as a good type of stress on our bodies and can have amazing effects like lowering inflammation, speeding up metabolism, supporting healthy weight loss, and improving mental health [19, 20].
If you don’t have regular access to a sauna and cold plunge, hot and cold showers are an easy way to experiment with heat and cold exposure. You can try switching from hot to cold a few times during one shower, or simply finish your hot shower with 10–20 seconds of cold water. There’s no better time to get started with this healthy habit than summer, when a cold shower is already more likely to feel refreshing rather than freezing.
It’s Never Too Late to Prioritize Your Health
Although culturally, the new year is when we think about creating a healthier lifestyle, the change of seasons from spring to summer might be a better time overall to reassess the changes we want to make for our health. I hope this list gave you some inspiration for some new healthy habits to start, and if you’re looking for more personalized coaching on your health, please reach out to us at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Health and schedule a free consultation.
The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.
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Wickramaratne PJ, Yangchen T, Lepow L, Patra BG, Glicksburg B, Talati A, et al. Social connectedness as a determinant of mental health: A scoping review. PLoS ONE. 2022 Oct 13;17(10):e0275004. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0275004. PMID: 36228007. PMCID: PMC9560615.
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Reangsing C, Lauderman C, Schneider JK. Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Intervention on Depressive Symptoms in Emerging Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Integr Complement Med. 2022 Jan;28(1):6–24. DOI: 10.1089/jicm.2021.0036. PMID: 35085023.
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