Fitness For Summer: Having (Healthy) Fun In The Sun

06/15/2011 08:24 am ET | Updated Aug 15, 2011
  • Natasha Hastings USA track & field sprinter, Olympic gold medalist and certified fitness trainer

Summer is nearly here! As we are starting to fill our calendars with fun outdoor activities, let's not forget all of the hard work that we have put in thus far towards meeting our fitness goals. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the summer heat without diverting from your healthy journey.

Make eating healthy a priority this summer by focusing on simple snacks that don't take much prep work and aren't too heavy. The number one activity on our calendars will probably include picnics, cook-outs and barbecues throughout the summer holidays and weekends. There are ways to have a great cookout while still maintaining healthy eating habits. Try grilling or smoking lean cut meats like steak, chicken and turkey. Fish and other seafood items are all good choices as well. Instead of using fatty marinades, opt for a healthier, less calorically dense sauce.

Also, don't neglect your fruits and vegetables! Veggie kebabs can be tasty can easily be grilled alongside some of the meats. Fruit is not only delicious; most of it has a very high content of water. Eating fruits like watermelon, peaches and most "juicy" fruits will provide you with much-needed hydration. Fruit smoothies are a great option as well.

We know everyone loves a good potato salad at a cookout, but potato salad is made with mayonnaise. The entire caloric makeup of mayonnaise comes from fat and oil. So, exercise that self-control and just avoid it altogether. Deviled eggs are a good option for sides instead. The egg is a complete protein and has good nutritional value. So ultimately, avoid fatty meats and sauces, and instead opt for healthier -- but tasty -- sides.

Who doesn't love fun water activities when it's hot outdoors? It's a great way to get some exercise while keeping cool from the heat. Go ahead, head out to the pool, have a water fight or turn the sprinkler on for the kids. Swimming is always a great fitness choice during the summer -- especially those who have physical limitations or who find other forms of exercise painful. Water can be used as a cushion to help stiff joints or fragile bones that might be injured by the impact of land exercises. Most athletes use water to rehabilitate after injury or to cross-train. People with arthritis or other disabilities use water to improve fitness and range of motion, as well as to relieve pain and stiffness.

The pool is always a great way to get some fun in and still stick to your summer fitness routine. If you bring your friends along, you can create competitive games to play in the pool, such as racing laps, playing water volleyball and water basketball. Taking swimming lessons is also a great option. Start by getting a swim coach or joining a swimming group in your area. There are classes for adults that accommodate swimmers of all levels and you don't have to want to compete to join. This type of group supports recreational swimming for fitness and is a great way to learn technique -- which is everything in swimming.

If you're a beginner, start slowly. Try to swim for 10 minutes. Build up to a 30-minute workout, three to five times a week. Include a warm-up and a cool-down, and in the middle, challenge yourself by working on endurance, stroke efficiency or speed. There are safety measures that have to be taken at the pool since there is a possible risk of drowning, so be sure to swim with a lifeguard on duty if possible. Make sure children are always supervised at the pool. Be safe and adhere to the pool rules. They are there so everyone can be safe and still have a good time.

Blistering summer heat waves can be extremely uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean you should totally abandon your normal outdoor activities. During the summer, the best time to exercise outside is in the early morning or late evening. Avoid working out in the middle of the day when the temperature is at it's highest. For stretching, breaks and cooling off, choose to find comfort in the shade. The sun can be very draining and cause heat exhaustion. With the heat, you will perspire more and lose lots of fluid so hydration is key.

The most important tip I can give you for the summertime is to drink plenty of water. Drink as much water as you can to help replace the fluids lost in perspiration. The risk of dehydration during the summer months is extremely high, so it is important that you pay attention to your hydration levels. The easiest way to determine your hydration is by the color of your urine. If your urine is dark yellow -- close to the color of apple juice -- drink more water. Dark urine means dehydration. Your urine should be light yellow, or as close to clear as possible.

If you want to be hydrated but also crave some flavor, drinking flavored water is a great way to go. Coconut water is also an excellent substitution for traditional drinking water. It is a great alternative because not only does it help with hydration, but it also contains potassium, which helps prevent muscle cramping due to exercise. Having water with you at all times will remind you to consistently drink it. Keep a bottle of water in your car, purse, bedroom, office and any other place you tend to spend a lot of time.

Although summertime is all about fun in the sun, keep these outdoor fitness tips in mind to enjoy a safe and healthy season.