Now that summer has arrived it’s a great time to get into shape. With brighter mornings and longer evenings the sunshine is calling us to come outside and make the most of it.

Nature is on our side

It’s a known fact that the extra sunlight makes us feel good after the cold, dark winter months. Both sunshine and regular exercise boost our levels of serotonin, our natural happy hormone, which helps us to regulate our sleep, memory and mood. That’s why we tend to feel happier and more energetic when the sun is shining. Higher levels of serotonin also suppress our appetites so that we eat less in warmer weather.

At the same time, extra sunlight acts to lower our levels of melatonin, which regulates our sleep, and lower levels of this hormone gives us more get up and go. This is why we need less sleep in summer but can still feel livelier.

With more sunshine and warmer weather it’s easier to spend time outdoors. The higher temperatures help to warm our muscles and ease stiffness and can also reduce pain caused by inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Spending time outdoors enjoying nature can also improve health by reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. It’s also been shown that exercising outdoors creates more endorphins in the body than exercising indoors.

Sunshine is a natural source of vitamin D, an essential vitamin, which helps to strengthen out immune systems, keep our bones healthy, regulate our blood sugar levels and which plays a role in our overall emotional health. To naturally boost our vitamin D levels we need relatively short, regular periods where we can openly expose large areas of skin to the sun’s rays.

Like everything, sunshine should be enjoyed in moderation and we need to be sun smart in our choices and not spend too much time soaking up the sun’s rays without protecting ourselves with an appropriate sunscreen.

Chronic stress, inadequate nutrition, insufficient relaxation and lack of sleep can all lead to excess levels of cortisol, a stress-hormone that helps our bodies to adapt to stressful situations. High cortisol levels are positively related to excess abdominal fat and also increased food intake following stress, particularly of sweet and high-fat foods and they also will decrease our ability to use vitamin D.

Exercise

With the longer days and the sun calling us to come and enjoy the outdoors there is more time to go jogging, swimming, cycling, Frisbee throwing, kicking a football, walking, hiking, outdoor yoga and so much more.

Walking regularly is one of the simplest positive changes you can make to your daily routine, whether it’s walking an extra stop to the bus or tube, going for a brisk walk at lunchtime or after work or enjoying a leisurely stroll with friends or family. Walking is a gentle, low-impact exercise which can strengthen our heart and help keep our weight in check. As it is a weight-bearing exercise it can also strengthen bones and increase their density, as well as help maintain healthy joints. It tones our legs, bum and tum and, if done at speed, our arms too. And like so many other types of exercise it can give us energy and help to make us happier. If you want a higher intensity work out with many of the same benefits as walking, why not trying jogging.

As the weather warms up, swimming and other water activities are another fun way to exercise. Due to the buoyancy water provides we can do lots of exercises that are difficult on land. There is no pounding of jarring and so people with joint pain or arthritis can often participate in water-based exercise more easily than land-based activities and without worsening symptoms. The water provides continual resistance to every move we make which can help with muscle strength. Swimming has also been shown to increase our feeling of well-being. Many people think of doing laps but why not also try water walking going forwards, backwards and sidewards, deep water running, water yoga and wall exercises (using the pool wall for support to isolate various body parts).

But, if the sunshine is not enough to get you motivated, you might benefit from exercising with a personal trainer. At Activate Plus Personal Training there are no expensive memberships, training times are flexible and you are sure to get that extra bit of encouragement to help you reach your goals. Personal Trainers don’t only help with motivation, they can also help you set and achieve your fitness goals by providing you with a tailor-made exercise programme which includes a variety of exercises so you don’t get bored. Whether it’s weight-loss, muscle definition, injury rehabilitation or a sport specific training goal, Personal Trainers can help get you where you want to be.

Daily routines

Physical activity is not limited to formal sports or exercise routines. We can all improve our fitness by increasing the amount of activity we perform during the day and there is evidence that by reducing the time we spend sitting down each day we can reduce our risk of death independently of other lifestyle factors. Some practical examples of ways we can build more movement into our daily routines include:

• Talking the stairs instead of the lift or walking up or down the escalator instead of standing still
• Cleaning can help free us of colds and help us cope better with seasonal allergies plus cleaning uses a range of different movements and burns calories, about 85 for every 30 minutes
• Gardening is also a great way to increase our activity levels and gets us outside at the same time. Mowing the lawn, raking leaves and pulling weeds all use a range of muscle groups and are physically taxing

Food

Summer is a great time to incorporate more fresh fruit and vegies into our meals and snacks, as local seasonal produce is more readily available. With the warmer weather we don’t crave the heavy meals of winter and the heat acts as an appetite suppressant too making summer the perfect time to eat more salads, cold soups and fresh fruit.

Summer is when strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, watermelon and a whole host of other fruits come into season. That’s good news as berries, cherries and watermelon are all nutritious and delicious! They are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and flavour, all for very few calories.

Raspberries are an excellent source of fibre and some of it comes in the soluble form of pectin, which helps lower cholesterol. Blueberries have also been linked to lower cholesterol as well as lower diabetes risk and may help ward off muscle fatigue. Strawberries may slow cognitive decline with aging and cherries seem to speed recovery after exercise and curb post work-out pain. Fruit is also full of water, helping us to stay hydrated on hot days and eating foods that are full of water also helps keep you satisfied on fewer calories.

Other great summer foods include corn on the cob which is a high-fibre, low-calorie food (just don’t overdo the salt or butter), fresh iced-tea which is full of antioxidants (but this really should be home-made not store bought to get the benefits), gazpacho which is filled with healthy ingredients, grilled or barbequed lean meat and courgettes, whether they are eaten raw, grilled, rolled, sliced or diced they have zero fat and cholesterol and are high in vitamin C.

So, why not enjoy the sunshine and let summer help you get in shape!

Disclaimer: The information here is provided as a general guide only and should not be considered as specific medical advice. If you haven’t been very active of late or have any health concerns, speak to your doctor before increasing your physical activity levels.