Let the Sun Shine In

It’s the absolute dead of winter, and many of you are subsisting in ruthlessly frigid weather. The local meteorologist cheerfully announces that, since December, you now have 19 more minutes of daylight! Yippee. It’s 4:30, and the sun hasn’t completely sunk below the icy horizon. That’s all the news from Lake Tundra!

As tempting as it is to hibernate in the comfort of our warm living room, the fact remains that, while we’re well within our rights to curse the cold, we need the sunlight.

Yes, in summer, it’s simple. Just get off your duff and walk outside. In January, well, it’s The Christmas Story scene when Ralphie’s mom bundles up his little brother in preparation for the walk to school: “I can’t put my arms down!”

And, oh, we know what you’re thinking. The happy lights, while we love them and agree that they definitely help, aren’t as efficient as the real deal at inducing vitamin D3 production in the body. (Remember, I’m just the messenger.) Anyway, the dog needs his walk, and you could use the fresh air.

We at MDA talk quite a bit about sunlight starvation and the benefits of moderate sun exposure. Continuing research further bolsters proof that soaking up the rays (again, in moderation) is essential for good health. Recommended daily exposure times vary considerably, from 3-15 minutes for lighter skinned people to as much as an hour for darker skinned people. Opt for at least 15 minutes a day, depending on your skin tone and sun intensity.

Need more motivation? Let’s review.

Sunlight and Cancer

Research studies and analysis of global incidence data (GLOBOCAN) consistently find that sun exposure is a protective factor against the following cancers: lung, kidney, breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, colon and skin cancer. And the list keeps growing.

Whoa! Wait a minute – protective against skin cancer?? Yes, Watson, research out of Stanford University shows that moderate sun exposure causes dendritic cells (immune cells in the skin) to convert inactive vitamin D3 to the active form. The active vitamin D3 then allows the immune system’s soldier T-cells to transfer to the outer layers of the skin, where they do their otherwise usual duty of overthrowing damaged cells and fighting infections.

So, let’s go back, you say. Cancer-sunlight. How does this all work? Vitamin D, research shows, prevents cancerous cells from dividing as well as advances the death of cancer cells themselves. On top of it all, vitamin D enhances the activity of certain genes, including those that manage cell cycle. Is that a cool hat-trick or what?

Sunlight and Heart Health

Studies have also supported vitamin D’s role in promoting heart health. Vitamin D apparently enhances the heart’s pumping ability as well as the integrity of heart cell structure. It can also help lower blood pressure and inflammation and aids in reducing insulin resistance. And it keeps getting better….

Sunlight and Osteoporosis
The vitamin D sunlight produces in the body is essential to bone density. Yes, we know what Big Moo tells you. That milk moustache isn’t just overplayed; it’s an oversimplification. There are plenty of population groups around the world that consume little to no dairy, and their osteoporosis rates are miniscule compared to ours. In addition to well balanced nutrition and smart supplementation as well as regular weight bearing exercise, the vitamin D we get from sunlight is crucial to maintaining bone density. Need more still?

Sunlight and Mental Health

Research has found that vitamin D is essential for those suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). The vitamin has also been a successful therapy for many people suffering from depression. The trick: vitamin D boosts serotonin levels (a feel good chemical) in the brain, which is substantially lower in those suffering from depression-of the seasonal variety or not.

Feel good. Hmm. Not such a bad idea for run-of-the-mill winter crankiness either. We could probably all use that about now.

jurvetson, RonAlmog, OiMax Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

10 Ways to Stay Active in the Cold Winter Months

Sunscreen May Not Be Your Friend

Laurel on Health Food: Vitamin D Study Shows Cancer Reduction

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