The summer season provides a great opportunity to optimize your health while having fun in the sun. While it is true that excessive sun exposure can increase the risk of sun burns and skin cancer, the current trend toward avoiding sun exposure altogether has been shown to have negative effects on health. Sun exposure has several vital health benefits that must be balanced against the risk of certain types of skin cancer caused by excessive sun exposure. One of the key benefits to sun exposure is maintaining optimal levels of Vitamin D. Your body actually needs at least 20 minutes of direct sun exposure two to three times a week in order to produce an adequate amount of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a wide variety of conditions including heart disease osteoporosis, hypertension, muscle weakness, rheumatoid arthritis and numerous cancer. Most people know that Vitamin D is necessary to maintain strong and healthy bones; but Vitamin D is also the only vitamin that is a hormone. Vitamin D requires sun exposure to become activated and then acts by regulating the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood stream which in turn affect the bones, circulation system and immune system as well.
People at increased risk for Vitamin D deficiency include the elderly, obese, dark skinned individuals, lactose intolerant individuals, and those with limited sun exposure. Common dietary sources of Vitamin D include fortified milk, salmon, tuna, fish, and eggs. Because most people do not consume adequate quantities of these foods, vitamin D supplementation is necessary to achieve the recommended daily allowance of 600-800 IU of Vitamin D per day for adults. If you are concerned that you may have a Vitamin D deficiency, the best way to determine your risk is by asking your healthcare provider to run a blood test to check your Vitamin D levels.
In addition to boosting Vitamin D levels, sun exposure has also been shown to elevate mood by boosting serotonin levels as well as improving sleep and promoting weight loss. Below are a few tips to help you receive the benefits of sun exposure while minimizing the risks of sun burns which lead to skin cancer:
- Always protect your face and ears with sun screens and hats as they are the most susceptible to skin damage.
- Allowing 20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to your arms, legs and trunk before 10am and after 3pm three times per week should provide adequate Vitamin D levels while minimizing the risk of sun burns and skin damage.
- IF you plan to be in the sun for longer periods of time remember to find adequate shade and use sun screen and sun protective clothing.
Remember these tips and you should never-ever get a sun burn while having fun in the sun!