Warm summer months mean more vacations, fun outdoor activities and longer evenings socializing with friends—all things your brain loves. It’s no wonder the brain thrives during summer. Research shows that summer is when the human brain is most active. In fact, brain scans of people who spend time outdoors show their prefrontal cortex has more gray matter and a stronger ability to think clearly and self-regulate. With longer days improving the mind’s ability to focus, warmer months have shown to increase neurological activity, heighten focus and attention and improve memory. So, what does this mean for your overall brain health? And how does brain health help you perform better on your job?
Take A Summer ‘Brain Break’
You might not realize it, but your brain health is affected by the warmer months. “The warmer months can have both positive and negative effects on brain health,” according to Dr. Patrick Porter, neuroscience expert and founder of BrainTap. “On one hand, longer daylight hours can improve mood and cognitive function. More exposure to sunlight means more vitamin D, which has been linked to memory improvement and mood enhancement. On the other hand, heat and humidity can lead to dehydration, which can negatively impact cognitive functions and productivity. Staying hydrated is thus essential. I always recommend drinking half your body’s weight in ounces of water.”
Summer is a perfect time to prioritize your brain health and take what Porter calls a brain break. “Summer is an ideal time to prioritize brain health because the season naturally lends itself to activities that promote a healthy brain—more outdoor activity, fresh foods, social interactions and chances for relaxation,” he says. “It’s also a great time to take a brain break. This could mean taking a break from intensive cognitive work or simply implementing practices like mindfulness and meditation to help the brain relax and rejuvenate.”
Porter lists five habits to make the most of summer for your brain:
- Active Lifestyle. The balmy weather is a perfect opportunity to partake in physical activities like swimming, biking or hiking. Regular exercise not only improves memory but also sharpens thinking skills, enhancing overall brain health.
- Healthy Eating. The bounty of summer brings a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in antioxidants, available in these summer harvests, can act as a safeguard for the brain against oxidative stress.
- Brain Training and Breathing Techniques. Summer is a great time to challenge your brain with puzzles, reading or learning a new skill. Additionally, incorporating mindful breathing techniques can significantly improve cognitive function and reduce stress.
- Socialization. Engaging with others stimulates various parts of the brain, thereby enhancing cognitive function. Summer social events can be a fun and beneficial way to boost brain health.
- Consistent Sleep Schedule. Sleep is a vital time for the brain to consolidate memories and undergo repair. Keeping to a consistent sleep schedule, even during the long days of summer, ensures your brain gets the rest it needs to function optimally.
Why Year-Round Brain Fitness Is important
Brain fitness—the ability to focus, remember and learn isn’t just for summer, Porter points out. It’s important to keep up the habit year-round. Just as physical fitness is important for the body’s strength and resilience, brain fitness is critical for cognitive health. It’s important year-round because our brains are always changing, constantly creating new connections and pathways. Keeping the brain fit helps slow cognitive aging and can lower the risk of neurodegenerative disorders. He offers five tips when you struggle to stay focused:
- Practice mindfulness exercises to enhance your ability to concentrate.
- Regular physical activity can help keep the brain sharp and improve focus.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Nutrient-dense foods can boost cognitive function and focus.
- Take regular breaks. Short breaks during long tasks help maintain a consistent level of performance.
- Create a distraction-free environment. Keep your workspace neat and tidy.
Soaring temperatures often means more time spent in the pool, at the beach and going to picnics in the parks. In addition to brain health, protecting the eyes during outdoor activities is just as important as using sunscreen to protect the skin, warns Dr. Kathryn Colby, director of NYU Langone’s Eye Center and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. She shares five tips to protect your eyes this summer:
- Shield your eyes from the sun.Globally, 15 million people are blind from cataracts, and up to 10% of these cases may have been caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Wear sunglasses that offer complete 100% UV protection and a hat that sufficiently blocks the sun.
- Prevent Swimmer’s Eye.Wear goggles when swimming in the pool to protect the eyes from chlorine. Chlorine compromises the integrity of the eye’s outer protective layer, making the eyes more susceptible to scratches and infections.
- Be prepared for dry eye flare-ups.Allergies and long airplane trips can cause flare-ups for the more than 16 million Americans who have dry eye disease. Avoid rubbing your eyes at all costs and schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist.
- Stay hydrated and eat well.Summer activities can lead to dehydration and a lack of nutrients. Prioritize eating a balanced diet with dark leafy greens, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods and drink plenty of water.
- Protect against oddball events. Summer-related eye accidents can cause permanent eye damage. Avoid playing with fireworks and wear proper eye protection when playing sports.
Overworking long days on a weekly basis gives you brain fatigue and eye strain, making you less productive and putting you into the summer slump. Don’t be one of the 47% of Americans refusing a summer vacation this year because it’s too stressful to plan a getaway. Ward off the summer slump. Check here for steps you can take for a no-stress vacation. Time off and breaks reset your brain, and replacing screen time with occasional green time in nature is essential for brain health. It makes you more energetic and resilient and boosts your productivity. This summer make sure to unplug from the office now and then, even if it’s just for a day or a few hours—even for a few minutes throughout the workday, but do it because you have earned it or if for no other reason just for the health of it!