5 Ways to Have a Heart & Brain Healthy Summer

Heart and brain health can be improved year-round, but summer brings a unique set of challenges. Read on to learn how you can have your best (and healthiest!) summer yet.

Take advantage of seasonal brain and heart-healthy foods

One of the advantages of summer is the availability of fresh, seasonal vegetables. Many communities have farmer’s markets where you can easily purchase produce and other fresh items that are a welcome addition to a heart and brain healthy diet. Or perhaps you have a green thumb, and you’re able to eat right from your own garden. In either case, here are some of the best fruits and veggies to incorporate into your diet this summer:

  • Red, yellow and orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers and acorn squash – These veggies are all packed with carotenoids, fiber, and vitamins to help your heart.
  • Berries – Studies show that eating lots of berries can reduce several risk factors for heart disease. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are packed with heart healthy nutrients and antioxidants, which protect against inflammation and stress that may contribute to heart disease. These antioxidants may also help protect brain cells from damage by harmful free radicals.
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes contain lycopene, a natural plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties, and eating them may produce similar affects to eating berries.

Consumption of lycopene may also reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. One review of 25 studies showed that a high intake of foods rich in lycopene was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, according to Healthline.

Avoid the heat

Heat can pose a variety of issues in the summer and can influence your heart and brain health. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that heat can have a negative effect on mental performance. And if you have heart issues and are on certain medications like beta blockers, ARBs, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics, be aware that those medications can exaggerate the body’s response to heat.

Heat can also affect your sleep, and lack of sleep is linked to less than optimal heart and brain health. According to Dr. Christopher S. Colwell, a neuroscientist and sleep expert, if the temperature is too warm when you’re sleeping, it can cause your body to stay up. “We normally fall asleep when the body’s core temperature drops at night. It’s part of the normal circadian rhythm. If the temperature is too warm, we cannot fall asleep, leading to a night of tossing and turning. Sleeping in a cool, dark environment will help your body get the sleep that it needs.”

When it’s hot out, we also tend to become dehydrated more easily, which can lead to a whole host of health issues. Avoid hot weather if you can, but if you must be in it, dress in lightweight clothing, use sunscreen, limit physical activity, and avoid being outside at peak times of heat (noon – 3 pm).

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated has several health benefits, but it can be more challenging in the summer when the weather is warmer. When it comes to the brain, drinking enough water helps keep the nervous system and the brain communicating properly, which will improve focus, alertness, and memory. Dehydration can lead to mental confusion and fatigue, and long-term chronic dehydration can lead to premature aging of the brain. Consult with your doctor prior to any drastic changes in your current fluid intake and to make sure this is an appropriate goal for you.

Dehydration can force the heart to work harder and can lead to problems ranging from swollen feet or a headache to life-threatening illnesses such as heat stroke.

Be careful with travel

Summer often means travel, which can be a great way to relieve stress – if done in the right way. Consider these four strategies for making your trip as relaxing and healthy as possible:

  • Be mindful of where you’re traveling – Try to avoid destinations with extreme heat or the possibility of wildfire or increased pollution. The effects of low air quality tend to strike people who are elderly or already struggling with heart disease, and pollution is also believed to have inflammatory effects on the heart, causing chronic cardiovascular problems. If you are traveling to a more remote or exotic location and have a medical condition, be sure to plan accordingly when it comes to medical facilities. Access to healthcare in case of an emergency might be challenging in certain areas.
  • Be mindful of how you’re traveling – Sitting immobile on plane flights may increase a normal person’s risk of blood clots in the legs, and this risk can be increased if you have medical issues. If you are traveling by car on a long trip, be sure to plan for stops to take any medications, stretch your legs and use restroom facilities.
  • Prepare to avoid stress – Vacation is supposed to relieve stress, but sometimes the process can feel like the opposite. From making flights to coordinating transportation and activities, travel can be stressful. In the human body, stress triggers the release of adrenaline, which causes your heart rate and breathing to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. Chronic stress has been shown to have a negative impact on brain health. In addition, stress may lead to behaviors that increase your risk of a heart or brain issue. For instance, some people respond to stress by smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating, and being physically inactive. Be sure to take time to prepare for any trips, including consulting with your health care provider on any restrictions, ensuring medications are filled, and that your finances are in good shape. Doing so will help you avoid stress and enjoy your time away.
  • Stick to your regular routine as much as possible – It can be easy to slip into an unhealthy pattern when out of your comfort zone. Watch your intake of alcohol and potentially unhealthy foods and try to maintain your regular activity and sleep habits.

Plan social activities (bonus points for physical activities!)

Summer is a great time to gather with friends and doing so is good for you! In a previous article, we discussed how important social interaction is for your health – both heart and brain (click here to read more). Since staying active is also a way to stay healthy, consider combining social time with an activity like walking, golf, or gardening while the weather is nicer. Just be sure to talk with your doctor about your physical activity level.

If heat or other summer activities are causing unusual symptoms or concerning you at all, seek out medical advice. Consulting with your doctor about any changes to your routine and your travel plans to get advice specific to your situation is a good idea as well. Have a happy and healthy summer!

References:

Accessed March 12, 2019.

This educational blog was provided by Boston Scientific.