Summer is right around the corner and that means lots of fun outdoor activities – swimming, fishing, biking, walking, amusement parks, picnics, and beach vacations. After hearing the countless warnings regarding sun exposure, we know the significance of sunscreen and the proper coverage of our skin. However, there is a new trend building momentum that has caused the experts to rethink how much we are avoiding the sun.
Recent evidence is connecting excessive avoidance of the sun to a lack of Vitamin D. This essential vitamin is “used by the body to manage the amount of calcium in your blood, bones and gut, and help the cells all over your body communicate properly.” (Vitamin D Council, 2011) According to a 2007 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, almost 70% of Caucasians, 90% of Mexican Americans, and 97% of African Americans in the U.S. have insufficient levels of Vitamin D in their blood. Ironically, the most cost-effective and easiest way to reverse this situation is with sun exposure. However, with the inherent risks associated with excessive sun exposure finding a balance is critical, but it can be done with discipline and awareness.
There are three key benefits to adequate sun exposure:
- The sun allows the body to produce Vitamin D.
- The sun gives us our healthy sleep patterns by regulating circadian rhythms.
- The sun promotes a happier disposition.
Still, we need to understand what it requires to ensure we don’t overdo it and increase our risk of sun damage. The first is acknowledging your skin type. If you are fair skinned, then less is more. Fair skin needs much less sun exposure because of it’s minimal defense against burning. Yet, because it’s fair, it also synthesizes the sun much quicker. For the fairest of us, five minutes of unprotected mid-day sun is ideal. Those with darker skin, twenty minutes is adequate to achieve the ideal dose. When in the sun, be careful not to overexpose areas of your body like your face and neck that are typically already facing the elements every day. Instead, protect those areas and focus on your legs or arms.
Many factors can affect our Vitamin D levels like the time of year, where we live, what our schedule dictates, and how our body synthesizes it. Fortunately, we can boost our levels of this essential nutrient with the help of supplements. Many experts recommend 1,000 IUs or higher, although the daily allowance for adults is 600. Talking with your healthcare provider will help you determine what your next step is in obtaining optimal levels of this key vitamin.