A scientific paper recently looked at the links between the time of year and how physically active we are, finding that spring is a season when many people are most active. Summer does very well, too, of course. But in some studies, spring took the top spot outright.
It’s pretty easy to see why – there’s just something special about spring. After a long, gray winter in the Midwest, the later sunsets and warmer weather can lift the spirits and give a boost to our motivation.
Getting out for walks, heading to the park with the family or trying a new dance class, being active can feel as much a part of spring as new blossoms on the trees. On top of feeling great, it’s wonderful for our mental and physical health, too, even if it’s just 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there.
Plus, the burst of springtime wellness doesn’t stop with physical activity.
As farmers’ markets begin to pop up again – and more fresh, colorful and affordable produce start to hit the grocery stores, it’s also easier to expand our healthy snack and meal options. Winter can be a time when we favor comfort foods, which can warm us up on cold days but may not be the healthiest choices. Springtime can help us put the focus back on healthier foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The burst of colors and types of produce we see in spring always makes me think of dishes inspired by the Mediterranean diet. While there are certainly many approaches to healthy eating, the Mediterranean diet seems to hit a sweet spot with many people. Much more a way of eating than a strict diet, it’s flavorful, relatively easy to follow and has well-known health benefits. It’s been shown to help with weight control and to lower the risk of dementia, heart disease, stroke and a number of cancers.
Coming from food traditions of southern Italy and Greece, Mediterranean-inspired meals tend to emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts – plus olive oil and other healthy fats. Any meats in the Mediterranean diet focus on fish and chicken, rather than red and processed meat, and are generally kept to smaller portions. A quick search online can help you find many helpful tips and recipes.
Of course, making any changes to how we eat can take some effort. But spring can make exploring new approaches like the Mediterranean diet easier than other times of year. And if going Mediterranean doesn’t feel right for you, that’s OK, too. There’s no need to follow any specific type of diet. The real focus should simply be on eating more healthy plant-based foods.
Coming out of the grey, winter months, it’s also important to remember sunscreen and sun-safe clothing as we get outside more often. While the spring sun can feel really nice, it can still damage the skin and increase the risk of cancer, including melanoma. Other tips to stay safe and healthy during spring activities include wearing layers, so you can adjust to big variations in spring temperatures, and bringing a water bottle – and maybe a snack and a friend – depending on where and how far you’re going.
Next to not smoking, there’s really nothing that improves health and wellness more than the combination of healthy eating and physical activity. So, let’s all get out and enjoy springtime – and the healthy behaviors it inspires.
It’s your health. Take control.
Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention and the creator of the free prevention tool YourDiseaseRisk.com.