As summer fast approaches in our area, many of us will be outdoors, perhaps to the beach, enjoying the sunlight. But isn’t sunlight bad for us, with the possibility of skin cancer? What about the health benefits of sunlight? In this article we will attempt to answer a few of these questions.
First of all, we should understand that a certain amount of sun exposure is a vital to health and fitness. This seems to be backed by a glance at evolutionary history, where all of life came about under the rays of the sun. Experimentally it is also understood that there are indeed specific responses within the body which occur when the skin receives sunlight.
One such response is the production of vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that also acts a lot like a hormone in the body, with effects in many different areas. Research supports that most Americans are vitamin D deficient. This vitamin plays an important role in bone health and strength, , as well as proper digestion of calcium and other products, immune system regulation, and even in preventing the very cancer that many are afraid of getting from sun exposure.
Though some take vitamin D supplements, it seems that this is not as efficient as sunlight, and in some cases may even cause negative effects in the body. So it seems that nature has the right idea with regard to vitamin D and sunlight exposure.
Another benefit of sunlight is mood improvement. In fact, light itself is often used to treat depression or seasonal affective disorders
So all this establishes that we probably shouldn’t have ‘Bram Stoker’s Summer.’ But, like most variables, there is a happy medium. The relationship between too much sun and cancerous melanoma is also well established. We almost intuitively know that to become burned is an inflammatory response of the skin, it indicates that damage is done, and this is supported by research as well.
So, in order to avoid too much sun in places like the beach, ensure that you use shade wisely, allowing your skin to rest, and/or using protective clothing. Also, using sunscreen is a necessity if you plan on being out in the sun for long periods of sustained time.
Therefore, along with ensuring we get adequate sun exposure for health, we also want to avoid too much. Generally, we should shoot for around ten to fifteen minutes a day of midday (10am to 4pm) sun exposure. If outdoors earlier in the morning or later in the day, it may take more time to get our appropriate amount of sunlight exposure and vitamin d.
Or, if you’d like to be even more precise, take a moment and use this calculator designed to tell you the amount of time in the sun required to get the recommended daily value of 1000 IU. It takes into account your skin tone, location, elevation, time of day, and more!
So, in closing, find the balance in your sun exposure, as sunlight is a vital component to health in the form of bone health, immunity, and cancer prevention. However, watch out if you are out in the sun with exposed skin for periods of time longer than 15 minutes. Now let’s get out there and start getting that free vitamin D!
David Younkins, M.S., C.E.S.