FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Summer is a time where people focus more on their outward appearance as they try to get their beach bodies in shape, but health care officials at Lyster Army Health Clinic want to make sure people are taking care of their bodies both inside and out.

Hydration and nutrition are major factors people need to keep in mind when it comes to summer wellness, Andrea Jones, chief of nutrition care at Lyster Army Health Clinic, said.

What goes into people's bodies is just as important as what they try to get out of it, said Jones, and one thing many people forget to take into account when working on their summer fitness is hydration.

"Hydration is a big thing, especially down here," said the nutrition chief. "We live in such a hot environment and it's hard to stay hydrated, so people should incorporate that in everything they do to make sure they drink plenty of water."

Water is the operative word, said Jones. Many tend to reach for their favorite sodas or sugary beverages when thirst strikes, but doing so can have short- and long-term effects.

"When talking about staying hydrated in the heat, you want to drink as much water as possible and be careful of sugary drinks like sweat tea, sodas and even fruit juice," she said. "Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate you and all of those things are very high in calories. When you're hot and thirsty, and you grab a soda, you could just be downing a big drink that could have upwards of a thousand calories in it."

To combat that, Jones suggests people drink water or create their own infusions of water with lemon, lime or even strawberries. Additionally, people should sip water throughout the day.

Sugar can be one of the biggest contributing factors to feelings of fatigue, sluggishness and weight gain, said the nutrition chief, adding that generally foods high in sugar offer next to no nutritional value.

"When you drink sodas and sugary drinks, nutritionally that's all you're really getting -- sugar," she said. "People need to have a balance of nutrition, otherwise they can have a sugar crash," which results when a person's blood sugar spikes from high sugar intake, then drops dramatically, causing feelings of fatigue and lethargy.

Jones said in the pursuit of their fitness and dietary goals, people should limit the amount of excess sugar intake as much as possible.

Another big culprit is portion size, she said, adding that as long as people are watching their potion sizes, most can eat whatever they want within reason.

One way to combat overeating is by preparing meals at home, which allows people to control their portion sizes, said Jones.

"If you plan your meals out ahead of time, buy the ingredients and go ahead and prep them, you're less likely to run through (a fast food chain) than you would be if you hadn't planned," she said, adding that people should avoid processed foods, as well.

"Unfortunately, anything that is quick and easy is not normally going to be good for you," said the nutrition chief. "Avoid fast food and fried foods because they have tons of sodium and calories, and make sure you're eating plenty of fruits and vegetables."

The effects of an unhealthy diet can be long lasting, and although many people think that just because they're young they can eat however they'd like, the risks can accumulate without any visible signs.

"Just because you're not gaining weight doesn't mean you're healthy," said Jones. "I see so many people in their 20s now with high cholesterol already, and although there are some genetic factors in that, too, a lot of it has to do with diet.

"Whether you're eating too many calories, too much sugar or too much fat, you develop a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and even certain cancers," she said. "This can all lead to obesity … but just because a person is thin, that doesn't necessarily mean they are healthy."

Jones said that people who remain thin due to a high metabolism are still at risk of developing high cholesterol and even diabetes. "You don't have to be overweight for an unhealthy diet to affect your health," she said.

In order to combat this, people can take small steps to a healthier lifestyle -- it's not something that has to change overnight, said the nutrition chief.

"People don't have to drastically change their lifestyle right away," she said, adding that those that try to are more likely to revert to their former habits.

"Take baby steps," Jones said. "If you eat out a lot, commit to only eating out two days a week instead of five days a week. Decrease your soda intake or other high-calorie drinks. You don't have to completely cut it out, because that just makes it harder to stick to. If you drink three sodas a day, maybe go down to one or two, and just take those steps towards it."

Also, Jones suggest people incorporate as much physical activity as possible. During the summer, there are a host of physical activities that people can take part in. "There are so many different things you can do -- hiking, biking, swimming -- so even if you don't exercise at all, this is a great time to get involved with some of those activities," she said.

For more information, 255-7986.