Getting the right amount of daily sun exposure is an easy way to stay healthy and “master your craft”. In this blog post, I am focusing on the health benefits of low-to-moderate levels of sun exposure. I am excluding tanning/sunbathing for extended periods of time because it’s associated with many health risks.
In today’s day and age, most people do not spend much time outdoors. We tend to use our car to go from one place to another, work in an office or study in a classroom, workout inside a gym, and relax at home.
Therefore, it’s very important to take some time to go outside and enjoy the sun. Summer is just around the corner (days are getting warmer and longer), so it’s the perfect time to add this “tweak” to your daily routine.
Exposure to sunlight helps your body synthesize vitamin D. This is important to know because Vitamin D plays a major role in keeping your bones strong, but is not naturally present in a lot of the food that we eat. Unlike concentrated supplements which can cause vitamin D toxicity, the sun is a safer option because it will break down any extra vitamin D made in your skin. It is vital to find your “vitamin D sweet spot” because too much or too little of it can cause bone or muscle damage. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include bone abnormalities and painful joints/muscles. Meanwhile, symptoms of vitamin D toxicity consist of appetite loss, vomiting, nausea, and increased urination and thirst.
Skin pigmentation has a major effect on vitamin D synthesis in the skin. For several days’ worth of vitamin D, light-skinned people need 10-15 minutes of direct sun exposure (without sunscreen) while dark-skinned people can need as much as 3 hours of direct sunlight.
Wait for a clear day. Go for a walk or sit outside for 15 minutes. Make sure that you are directly exposed to the sun (no heavy clothing, no shade created from tall buildings/trees/clouds, not being protected by windows or screens). If you plan on staying outside for a longer period of time, then apply sunscreen after 15 minutes to protect your skin (this will give your body enough time to make the vitamin D that it needs). On the other hand, if you have dark skin, increase the amount of time (maximum of 3 hours) that you will spend directly exposed to the sun.
In their analysis of the health risks and benefits associated with sun exposure, Sivamani and colleagues (2010) stated that, apart from vitamin D production, exposure to sunlight has been linked to improved energy levels and enhanced mood.
Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.
Sivamani, R. K., Crane, L. A., & Dellavalle, R. P. (2009). The benefits and risks of ultraviolet tanning and its alternatives: the role of prudent sun exposure. Dermatologic Clinics, 27, 149-54.
Sizer, F. S., Piché, L. A., & Whitney, E. N. (2012). Nutrition: Concepts and controversies. Toronto: Nelson Education.