summer health wellness fitness

Summer is a great time to take stock and embrace health and wellness. (iStock/Getty Images)

Taking good care of yourself can be challenging during the school year. If you’re planning on using summer to evaluate your well-being and make improvements, here’s a checklist for you.


One of the best ways to start improving your health is through physical activity.

Gunnar Peterson is a personal trainer who’s worked with everyone from top athletes in the world to the Kardashians. According to Peterson, working out has numerous benefits including increased energy levels and improved self-confidence. “I think everything you do in your workout serves everything outside of your workout. So from a health standpoint —longevity, resistance to illness, resistance to injury, just overall better health … you’re working to enjoy your life,” said Peterson.

Gunnar Peterson (Photo: Kristyna Archer)


If you haven’t worked out in a while, don’t worry. Peterson isn’t recommending killing yourself every day in the gym. Instead, he suggests people who are a bit out of shape ease their way into working out. “I think you decide to do a couple days a week. You incorporate some kind of activity or a fitness regime, find something you like. Don’t just do whatever you read that says ‘this is the best.’”


Peterson recommends doing something you enjoy so you’re less likely to skip workouts. Once you’re feeling comfortable with those couple workouts a week or you get a little extra time, Peterson suggests adding another workout. “Don’t try to break the bank. You know this is long term. This is something you want to do for your whole life,” Peterson notes.


With that said, Peterson believes it’s important to do both cardio and resistance training. “I’m a big fan of resistance training. That can be body weights, that can be Pilates, that can be basic strength training, power lifting — whatever your form, but you want to put a load on the body,” he explained.

You don’t even have to use heavy weights to get benefits. Peterson quoted a study in the New York Times that found using light weights can be effective when it comes to gaining muscle. And Peterson says lifting weights can also cause the body to lose fat. “By having the lean tissue, by maintaining muscle mass, you will burn [calories] at a higher rate and your body will shed the body fat,” he says.

So make sure you’re getting in cardio and resistance training. “You should definitely be getting both, and if you tell me you don’t have time for both, I’d say well, then split that time,” Peterson says.


Another great way to get healthy and lose weight is to catch some Z’s.

“I think sleep is key,” Peterson says, for overall health and wellness, and for workout performance. It’s so important, he says, that given the choice between sleep and exercise, you should probably pick sleep: “You might be better off getting an extra hour of sleep than doing that extra mile on the treadmill.”


Another key aspect of staying healthy is to stop stressing out.

Peterson says, “Stress raises cortisol levels,” explaining that cortisol is “a very destructive hormone in the body.”


Stop constantly weighing yourself and stop worrying about if you lost any weight.

“Some people are very affected by the scale. They allow an inanimate object to let them feel good or bad,” Peterson says. “They might feel great, they get on the scale, it’s not the number they want and then their mood goes completely south.”

So, he advises embracing the journey. “Try to find a way to enjoy the process. Try to find a way to enjoy the workouts, the activity, whatever it is, and then make good choices at the table,” he says. “Make good choices when it comes to sleep and recovery and what’ll happen is the weight will be a side effect.”


Food choices, of course, are extremely important for both weight loss and overall health.

Celebrity nutritionist and New York Times best-selling author Kimberly Snyder recommends that people slowly start making changes in their diet. “I always encourage people to take a couple habits and, you know, work them into their lifestyle and then build on that. Because it’s what we do long term that really dictates our health — how we look, how we feel, and also how quickly we age in many aspects and being able to ward off disease,” she says.

Kimberly Snyder (Photo: Timothy Nesmith)

Snyder says to begin with breakfast: “I always recommend people start from the morning up because it’s that experience of feeling really good in the morning that can help you start to make better decisions throughout the day.”

Start with a small positive change “like hot water with lemon in the morning,” she suggests, especially because lemons are affordable. “You know, research shows that lemon has enzymes that support your liver tissue. Your liver’s your main fat burning organ,” Snyder says.

Snyder also recommends people drink her “glowing green smoothie”, which contains both fruits and vegetables, right away in the morning. These plant foods provide you with a good source of fiber, which “gives you sustained energy and it naturally keeps you full so you’re not starving,” Snyder said.


The key, Snyder said, is not to look at a dietary shift like it’s a diet. “Dieting is miserable. Dieting is like ‘oh my God, I’m so hungry and I only have 300 more calories left in my daily allotment.’ That sucks!”

Snyder points out that “500 calories of an avocado digests completely differently in your body than 500 calories of potato chips.” So instead of counting calories, she encourages people to make long-term changes, while not beating themselves up if they deviate from healthy foods.


Snyder said you should try to be eating healthy foods 80% of the time. “What we want to avoid is this flip-flopping like I’m either on or I’m off. So 80% allows for some indulgences. It allows for treats and what you’re doing most of the time is what counts. So that 80% is where the power is.”


She thinks the low-carb diet craze can cause a different problem. “We’re in the era of ‘carbs are bad,’ so what happens in that type of mindset is that people end up eating way too much protein. I don’t know if you’re aware of this but the average American, they say, now eats five times too much protein,” she explains.

Extra protein won’t just foil your weight goals — it can also wreak havoc with your health. “The problem with that is it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your liver and your kidneys, and it acidifies your body, which is the root cause of pretty much every disease,” Snyder says. “It accelerates the aging of your body, and so I think that this massive emphasis on protein is very harmful from a nutritional standpoint.” Instead, instead embrace whole foods, she suggests.


Finally, “Don’t stress over the numbers,” Snyder says. “I always say, progress, not perfection. It’s not about being perfect, but you start to make better changes long term that you can stick with.”

Scott Behrens is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a USA TODAY College correspondent.