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posted: 8/4/2012 9:56 AM

10 ways to take advantage of summer

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Summer months are often a time when we are open to new experiences, to a change of pace.

It's as though we give ourselves permission to take our nose from the grindstone and look around for an adventure or two.

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If you're starting to feel that summer already is slipping away, let me suggest some new experiences that can be both an interesting change of pace and have some benefits to our physical, emotion, relational and spiritual health.

First some ideas about our physical health.

1. Let's start with exercise. Working out doesn't have to involve time-consuming, tedious and painful activities that leave us feeling like we've just finished the triathlon. Good, healthy exercise can be enjoyable.

Especially in the summer, we can integrate exercise into our daily routine in such a way that we are unaware that we are getting a good workout. Hiking, brisk walking, swimming, moderate jogging, and a host of outdoor activities can be good exercise. And, because we enjoy getting outside anyway, we can often forget that we're exercising in the process.

2. Another new experience we might try is changing our eating habits. Counting calories for a few weeks and comparing our figures to what the experts say we need can be interesting.

We also might look at what we eat and see how it compares with what nutrition guides suggest. With fresh fruits and vegetables plentiful in summer, and inexpensive to boot, we can also try new foods and meal plans that are healthy, enjoyable and quick.

3. When was the last time we had a complete physical? Physician's offices tend to be less busy in the summer. And chances are it will be easier for us to get some time off.

Why don't we schedule that checkup we've been putting off as part of our summer health focus?

4. Emotional health is just as important as physical health. Summer can be a good time to step back and take a look at how we feel about ourselves and our lives. Are we pleased with who we are? Do we value ourselves? Do we accept our strengths and our weaknesses?

Books (for example, those by John Powell or Jesse Lair) can be helpful as we consider this. Some short-term counseling may be a valuable resource if we find that our sense of self seems to be negative.

5. Summer tends to be a season of reduced stress. If we have felt regularly at wits end during the rest of the year, why not take our summer break and sharpen our stress management skills?

Again, there are some good books on stress management. There are also stress management courses offered, as well as stress management counselors who can give us a helping hand.

6. How about our relational health? If we are married or have a significant other, summer can furnish an opportunity to spend some extra "fun" time together.

It can be a time for evening walks, serious talks, special dinners, a weekend away. It can be a time to take a look at how we are doing and make some changes for the better (if these changes seem more than we can handle, some short term relational counseling may be of help).

7. Another important relationship is that with our children. Kids find a special magic in summer to begin with. We can use it as an opportunity to strengthen our ties, to reaffirm the love that may have gotten misplaced during the winter rush.

8. Friendships likewise can find renewal in the summer months. A special lunch or other activity, a walk in the park, a long-distance phone call (no, this isn't a plug for "Ma Bell") can reaffirm our special friendships.

9. Career relationships can also be considered during the less frantic days of summer. Are we satisfied with our current job? Is this where we want to be? Do we need to move on? To get retrained? Career counseling may be valuable at this point.

10. This spiritual dimension of our health is ultimately the most important. It, too, can a profit from summer time reflection. Do we have a sense of purpose or meaning to our existence? Is it something greater than our own individual needs and wants? Are we at peace with the course of our lives? Do we have faith?

Often summer furnishes opportunities for retreats and other time outs from our normal activities that can help us see the big picture. Reading, meditating, praying, can all be valuable as we take stock or our spiritual health.

If summer turns out to be rather boring, we can't complain about a lack of worthwhile things to do: And, most of these ideas don't require a great deal of money, or even time.

I admit my suggestions are a bit risky. But, then, growing often is.

Our "summer breather" can perhaps free us to explore our potentials for physical, emotional, relational and spiritual health. Such whole person health can be a special summer gift to ourselves and those we love.

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