With milder temperatures, more sun, and wildlife sprouting everywhere, the arrival of spring in and of itself can put an extra kick in your step. It’s a time of possibility, a time to take stock of the habits that might be holding you back from being who you want to be — and to form new habits that help you become a better version of yourself.
“Spring can a really good time to reevaluate,” says Katerina Nicole Christiansen, MD, an associate physician and health science clinical professor at University of California Davis Health. And that includes giving your health and wellness routines a once over, she says. You may even find that resolutions made in springtime are easier to follow than the ones you try to implement in the cold, bitter winter months.
If you want to pay your health and well-being a little extra attention this spring, but don’t know where to start, here are nine tips to get you started.
1. Fill Your Plate With Fresh, In-Season Fruits and Vegetables
Spring and summer are a great time to incorporate more fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables into the diet, says Misbah K. Keen, MD, a professor of family medicine at University of Washington Medicine in Seattle. Warmer weather produce, like mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, and berries, are all packed with micronutrients the body needs and thrives on.
Dr. Keen recommends visiting farmer’s markets and shopping for organic produce when possible, especially for fruits and vegetables that you eat whole from the outside, like apples or cherries. He also urges people to focus on getting healthy fats from produce and whole foods — like avocados, nuts, and seeds — rather than from refined oils and fried foods.
2. Be Mindful of Opportunities to Overindulge
Warmer weather often brings outdoor gathering like picnics and barbeques, which can come with unhealthy foods like grilled and processed meats and fatty snacks.
“A lot of foods that we barbecue are very fatty,” notes Anjali Mahoney, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Keck Medicine of University of Southern California in Los Angeles. You don’t have to forgo these foods all together, but Dr. Mahoney recommends looking for leaner meat and poultry options and avoiding fried snacks and fatty dips when you can to help reduce your intake of artery-clogging unhealthy fats.
Another important precaution is to watch your alcohol intake at outdoor gatherings. Again, you don’t have to avoid it completely; moderation is important though, Mahoney advises. Stick to the recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which means limit to one drink a day if you’re a woman and two drinks if you’re a man (with fewer being a healthier choice).
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3. Stay Hydrated
When it’s warmer outside, your body can lose more moisture through sweating, even if you don’t feel yourself getting sweaty. Dehydration can pose serious health risks if severe — and even if you’re just mildly dehydrated, it can cause fatigue, low energy, and headaches. To help prevent dehydration, it’s important to take proactive steps to drink enough water throughout the day, such as by keeping a water bottle handy at all times.
Another potential benefit of drinking enough water is that it may help you avoid overeating. “Drinking a glass of water prior to eating sometimes helps quell some of those hunger cues,” Dr. Christiansen explains.
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4. Get Outside and Get Moving
Getting enough physical activity every day is really important, Mahoney says. It can be as simple as taking a walk down the block or spending some time gardening. Any activity that gets your bones and muscles moving can help.
Do we reap extra benefits though from activity done outside?
“We’re genetically programmed to enjoy the outdoors,” Keen notes. “It engages all of your senses, and it has a big effect on your mood and self-esteem.” Getting outside can boost vitamin D levels, thanks to the sun (just be sure to keep reading until the tip on wearing sunscreen below). And if you’re walking or running on uneven terrain, it can engage more muscles and improve your balance compared with moving on a flat surface.
RELATED: Why Exercising Outdoors Is So Good for You
5. Soak Up the Sun
There are many benefits to getting some sunlight (provided you’re being diligent about using sunscreen), Christiansen notes. “Bright light exposure helps release serotonin in the body, which can boost your mood,” she explains.
Exposure to sunlight also helps the skin produce vitamin D, which is good for bone health and other functions in the body, she adds.
And remember, even if you’re walking or hiking in the shade or on a cloudy day, there’s still going to be plenty of light to stimulate your mood, Keen says.
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6. But Do Protect Skin and Eyes From Damaging UV Rays
Even though getting a certain amount of sunlight is healthy and beneficial, too much sun exposure can damage your eyes and skin. For this reason, it’s important to use appropriate sun protection, which includes wearing sunglasses, protective clothing, and sunscreen.
“I personally like clothing that has SPF built in for areas of the body that you can easily cover,” says Keen.
Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every couple of hours, he points out — especially if you’re sweating or swimming. Keen recommends using a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen (one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of 30 to 50. At higher SPF levels, he says, sunscreens often contain a higher concentration of chemicals that may irritate your skin but offer little extra sun protection.
7. Reset Your Sleep Schedule
If dark, cold winter days have thrown your sleep schedule off track, use spring as a reset.
One bad habit to break is spending lots of time in front of a computer or phone or laptop just before bed. “These devices turn on your brain and make you think it’s time to wake up,” Mahoney says.
Other ways to clean up your pre-sleep routine include: not exercising or eating large meals within two hours before bedtime, avoiding alcohol for at least four hours before bed, and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon. And definitely do get up at the same time each day — ideally with exposure to light right away. Consistently waking up at the same time day after day gets your body and that routine — and it becomes easier to stick to.
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep: “Keeping the place where you sleep really dark and cool can be helpful,” Christiansen points out.
RELATED: The Ultimate Guide on How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
8. Watch for Allergens (Both Indoors and Out)
Springtime brings a spike in outdoor allergens like pollen, but it’s also a good time to minimize your exposure to allergens indoors, where most of us spend a lot of our time. “For allergies, I definitely advise a big spring clean in your house,” says Christiansen — “vacuuming rugs and carpets, and a deep cleaning of dust.”
If you experience outdoor allergies, it’s a good idea to reduce your effective exposure level by using a nasal saline solution after spending time outside. Saline sprays are available over-the-counter in stores, or you can make your own and use a device like a neti pot to flush out allergens from your nasal passages.
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And paying attention to the air quality (check for alerts from the National Weather Service) is really important if you have allergies, in terms of both pollen and pollution, Mahoney adds. Try to stay indoors if the air quality is really bad.
9. Check In With Your Doctor
Spring is a great time to make sure you’re up to date with recommended health screenings and immunizations, and to check in with your doctor to discuss any health concerns you have.
“I think it’s important to get an annual physical, not only if you have chronic medical conditions but also to stay healthy,” says Keen. This annual visit can be a time to get screened for different types of cancer and heart disease according to guidelines (the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has a useful tool for you to check out which screenings are recommended for you) — and to discuss ways to stay healthy.
Some tips for your annual appointment: Go through your medication list with your doctor, says Christiansen — both to make sure prescription drugs are working as they should and to see if any are still needed.
The benefit of being in regular contact with your doctor is that your provider will be familiar with your health history if you do get sick at some other point throughout the year, says Mahoney. “I think it’s really important that everyone has a relationship with their primary care physician.”