Making The Most Out Of The Health Benefits Of Summer

When you work in holistic or complementary healthcare – where we primarily treat people who are chronically rather than urgently ill – you soon learn that summer is a slow time. Part of that is because summer gets busy – there are so many events to go to, and trips make it difficult to commit to a course of treatment – but there’s a deeper reason for the trend. The reason is that most people tend to feel better during the summer. Those nagging health concerns fade into the background and can be put aside for a while.

While it isn’t always a good idea to put off getting treatment for a chronic issue because you feel better temporarily, this trend does highlight the fact that, for most people, summer is a health tonic. One of the key components of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an understanding of the ways in which climate and weather impact the human body and affect our health. So what is it about this season that makes us feel better, and how can we make the most of its health benefits?

How The Weather Affects Our Health

If you’re someone who gets a headache before a thunderstorm, or you have an old injury that gets worse in cold weather, then you already know that the weather has an effect on your health. When there is an imbalance of the elements inside the body (too cold or too hot, too damp or too dry), then when the weather mimics the internal condition of your body, symptoms appear or worsen because they are exacerbated by adding fuel to the fire (or ice to the pre-existing cold). For example, if you get lethargic during high humidity, you likely have internal dampness that is worsened when the air around you is damp.

While some people have conditions that get worse during summer – for example a skin condition that gets aggravated during hot weather – most people tend to feel better (at least those in Northern climates do). Their aches and pains lessen with the warmer weather, their energy improves, and their mood brightens with the longer days. This natural boost gives us a chance to recover from the long winters and rejuvenate.

The Great Outdoors Is Good For Us

Being outside is also a health tonic. We evolved in natural environments where we were surrounded by plants and other animals. This is the natural state for our bodies, and when we spend time outside, our nervous systems return to a steadier state. Looking at plants changes the way our brains function. Chinese Medicine, especially Qi Gong, teaches that trees, rivers, and other natural elements have strong, healthy Qi that we can benefit from, which is why it’s recommended to do Qi Gong outside. I think this is just another way of saying that our environment affects us, and that natural places calm us down and switch the autonomic nervous system into the “rest and digest” mode, which allows our bodies to heal.

During winter, most of us spend very little time outside. One big reason that we tend to feel better in summer is that we get more outside time, whether that’s drinking on a patio or taking an epic canoe trip. Unfortunately, if you’re busy working or way overscheduled, it’s easy to miss out on this excellent opportunity to rejuvenate. If you’ve been missing out on the good weather, make a commitment to spend more time outdoors in whatever way feels fun and relaxing to you.

Warmer Days Means More Physical Activity

We often get sluggish in winter. We curl up against the cold, contract our muscles, and hide indoors. Then spring hits, and we get that surge of fresh energy, and we get moving again. Walking or biking gets infinitely more appealing, and there’s the lure of fun outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking and dancing all day at music festivals.

There’s a saying in TCM:

“Bu Tong Zi Tong, Zi Tong Bu Tong”
“Where there is pain, there is no free flow.
Where there is free flow, there is no pain.”

This lack of free flow is referred to as Qi stagnation, and it’s a major component of most illnesses. Hands down, the best way to move your Qi and encourage that free flow is to move your body. So when it’s summer time, and people are out strolling the boulevards instead of being tucked up in bed, the Qi moves, and those aches and pains get better. We also enjoy those other benefits of free-flowing Qi – improved energy and a happier mood.

If you’re still stuck in winter sluggishness, it’s time to switch to a summer lifestyle. Walk or bike to work, join an Ultimate Frisbee league, or go for weekend hikes – whatever floats your boat – but be sure to make the most of the opportunity to exercise outside for the next couple of months.

Summertime is Fun Time!

The living may not always be easy in the summertime, but it usually is more fun, at least here in Manitoba, where people seem to pour all their verve for living into the few short months of summer with endless festivals and street parties. While for some people, like those who work in construction, summer means 20 hour work days, for most of us things slow down and we get to relax a little. There are more parties and other fun events to attend (many of which involve time outside and/or physical activity as an added bonus), so we put more time into doing things that make us feel good.

Time spent in nature, getting exercise and enjoying life, leads to better health.

A simple equation for better health: get outside, move your body, and have fun.

Being happy doesn’t get talked about much as a health tonic, but it is. Doing things we enjoy and feeling relaxed and happy changes our body chemistry through the actions of hormones like endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine, and that changes everything. We experience less pain and more energy, which creates an upward cycle of feeling good. Being happy is so good for you that I don’t just recommend it during summer – I encourage you to prioritise it year-round for optimal health. But it’s easier in the summer because we have the cultural support for it. So start practicing now, and it’ll be easier to keep up the habit when winter hits.

Craft Your Lifestyle To Feed Your Health

If you want better health, it’s time to leverage the innate benefits of summer to set good habits and rejuvenate your body. So, to recap, here’s the top 3 things to incorporate more of into your daily rhythms:

  • Spend time outside in natural places to soak up the Qi and soothe your nervous system.
  • Get moving with outdoor activities to help the free-flow and avoid the pain of stagnation.
  • Have fun and do what you love, because it’s good for you!

Or, more succinctly:

  • Get outside
  • Move
  • Enjoy life

Healthy living doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Your health ally,

Moss

Moss
Moss Andrewes is an acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, specializing in women’s health and chronic illness. Originally from the UK and now residing in Canada, she is a writer, speaker, and event organizer, focusing on health, sustainable living and community. Her lifelong passion for making the world a happier, healthier place has led her through many adventures, including off-grid sustainable living, disaster relief, and various community health projects. She currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with her partner and two cats.

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