Healthy Habits for Your Post-Quarantine Summer

It's been a long year of pandemic life. Maybe you've been able to use the time you've spent at home to start some good health habits. Or as summer begins, you may be thinking about ways to make a fresh start by ditching the not-so-healthy parts of quarantine life. Whether you'd like to boost your immune system, get in better shape, lift your mood, or just stay safe, these habits can make a difference.

Eat Well

Your diet is a cornerstone of good health. It's key to keeping a healthy weight and protecting yourself from heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It can also play a role in how well your body can fight other diseases caused by viruses and bacteria.

Your gut houses 70% of your immune system, so the right balance of nutrients will help keep your body's defense system at peak performance.

There's no single superfood you should focus on. It's more about fueling your body with a mix of nutritious foods.

Sip Smart

What you drink can affect your health just as much as what you're eating. And as summer weather heats up, it's important to think about how you're staying hydrated.

Just about every part of your body needs a good supply of water. It's also an important part of your body's defenses. Your immune system depends on your bloodstream's ability to carry nutrients throughout your body. That happens more easily when you're hydrated.

Did you start drinking more alcohol on a regular basis during the pandemic? Now might be a good time to cut back. Ethanol, the type of alcohol found in beer, wine, and cocktails, impacts nearly every organ in your body and can weaken your immune system.

Try to:

Carry a reusable water bottle with you to fill throughout the day.

Do you have trouble remembering to drink water? Try planning certain times of day to have a glass, such as when you wake up, at each meal, and before bed.

Skip sweetened drinks. A soda, iced latte, or lemonade can be a refreshing treat, but they're loaded with sugar and calories and make poor choices. If you want something besides plain water, sip unsweetened iced tea, black cold-brew coffee, or ice water with a squeeze of lemon.

Watch how much alcohol you have. Men should have no more than two servings of beer, wine, or liquor per day and women should have one serving or less.

Trying to curb your drinking? Get comfortable saying no. If certain people tend to pressure you to drink, rehearse ways to politely turn them down. You can also let others know you're watching how much you drink. Telling your friends, family, or others you trust gives them a chance to support you.

Get Active

Plenty of people have gotten comfortable working out at home instead of in a gym during the pandemic. But if you haven't been exercising much, there's no better time to start making it a habit.

Regular physical activity makes your heart, lungs, muscles, and bones stronger. It makes you less likely to get long-term diseases like cancer and heart disease. And if you've put on some weight during quarantine, exercise will be a key part of slimming down.

Plus, each time you work out, billions of immune cells are released into your bloodstream, primed and ready to fight off any threats. A burst of activity also helps your body make special proteins that help your immune system resist infections.

While you won't feel all that happening, you can sense other benefits of exercise. After just one workout, your stress level will drop. You'll also find it easier to sleep at night.

A few tips to keep in mind:

If it's been a while since you've worked out, start with a low-key exercise, like a 15-minute walk, and build up to more activity over time. The goal is to get to at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of a week.

There are many types of activities you can try on your own at home. You can step outside for a jog or bike ride. Try exercises that use your own body weight, like push-ups or squats. Follow along with an online workout video.

Eager to get to the gym? Check into their safety protocols first, and make sure to stay home if you aren't feeling well.

Have fun! You can be active while doing something you enjoy, like playing tag with your kids or dancing to your favorite music. You're more likely to keep moving if it feels joyful.

If you've been working out and want to take things up a notch, push yourself out of your comfort zone. Walk up hills instead around a track, or try a faster-paced cardio video instead of your usual yoga. Switching between your old and new workout will help you get stronger without hurting yourself.

Keep Things Clean

The risk that you'll catch COVID-19 from touching a surface is low. But it's still a good idea to regularly clean parts of your home. Many diseases are spread by germs that hitch a ride on your hands. Some germs, like the ones that cause the common cold and flu, can live for hours on surfaces made of plastic, stainless steel, or other hard coatings.

Try to:

Clean high-touch areas like drawer handles, light switches, tabletops, and doorknobs once a day and after you have guests in your home.

Use the right product for each surface. Check labels on each of your household cleaners and use them as directed. Some may need to sit for a few minutes before you wipe them off. Others may need to be rinsed off with water.

Clean your phone and tablet on a regular basis. Once they're unplugged, wipe them down with a lint-free cloth, then gently go over them with a disinfectant or alcohol wipe. Never use bleach or spray a cleaner right on your electronics -- you could damage them.

Beware of any products that claim to protect surfaces from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Cleaning products are only able to kill viruses at the time that you use them.

Keep Your Skin Safe

Time outdoors has become a staple of pandemic life for many people. And getting out in the fresh air has plenty of perks. Sunshine lifts your mood, relieves stress, and helps you sleep better. It also assists your body in making vitamin D, which is key for bone health and a strong immune system. But while you're soaking up your outdoor time this summer, it's also crucial to care for your skin.

Cover up outside. To prevent a sunburn, wear sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and long sleeves and pants when you can.

Apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to your face after you brush your teeth every morning. That'll give it time to absorb into your skin and get you in the habit of wearing it every day. (Even if you're not planning on being outside, you can still be exposed to strong UVA light through windows.)

Carry an extra tube of sunscreen in your purse or backpack. When you're headed to the beach or pool, choose a type that's water-resistant. And don't skimp -- you'll need to apply about 2 tablespoons over your entire body to get enough protection.

Blot -- don't wipe off -- sweat. Rubbing moist skin makes it more likely to break out.

Keep Ticks and Mosquitos Away

These insects can do more than annoy you when you're outdoors. A tick bite can lead to Lyme disease, a serious bacterial infection. Mosquitos can also carry viruses, some of which can be fatal.

Try to:

Use an EPA-registered insect spray. These products have ingredients that are proven to work well and be safe, even if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

When you hike or camp, wear a hat and light-colored clothing, so ticks are easier to spot and pick off. Tuck pants into your socks or boots.

Check for ticks after you've been in the woods or tall grass. Look behind your knees, under your arms, and even in your hair.

Put screens over open windows and doors, and repair any tears so mosquitos can't find a way inside your home. If you have air conditioning, use that instead of fresh air to cool your house.

Get rid of standing water near your home. Mosquitoes lay their eggs on or near water. Once a week, check items in your yard like toys, buckets, and planters that can collect water. Dump them out and give them a quick scrub.

If you get a fever, headache, muscle aches, or a rash within 2 weeks of an insect bite, call your doctor.

Prioritize Sleep

Rest is your body's superpower. While you sleep at night, your body makes special cells, antibodies, and proteins that help fight against infection and inflammation. If you don't get enough quality rest, you're more likely to get sick when you're exposed to germs. It could take you longer to get over an illness, too.

Try to:

Get between 7-8 hours of sleep each night. More than that may make it harder for you to sleep.

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This gets your body into a routine, and you'll find it easier to drift off and wake up.

Make your bedroom "cave-like." Think cool, quiet, and dark. You'll sleep best in these conditions.

Keep your naps short. While it may be tempting to doze off by the pool, try not to sleep longer than 30 minutes -- or late in the day.

Move screens out of your bedroom. The blue light from your tablet, phone, or laptop tells your brain to stay awake instead of drift off.

Exercise can help you sleep better. Moderate activity, like a brisk walk, earlier in the day or gentle yoga right before bed can help you relax and fall asleep faster.

Keep Up With Pandemic Basics

It's still important to maintain the habits that protect you and others from COVID-19, as well as other types of germs that can make you sick.

If you've had a COVID-19 vaccine -- a one-dose shot or both doses of a two-shot vaccine -- you can leave your mask off when you're around other people. But you should still wear one in certain public places, like on planes, trains, buses, and when a business or other facility requires them. If you feel more comfortable masking up and keeping your distance when you're in a large group or a crowded place, go ahead and do so. And if you have a health condition that affects your immune system, make sure you talk to your doctor about other safety measures you should take.

Try to:

Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth. (And always carry an extra clean one.)

Wash your hands often with soap and water. (Lather up each time for at least 20 seconds!) If you can't get to a sink, use hand sanitizer.

Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Don't have a tissue? Use your bent elbow.

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