Now that we are past Memorial Day and the Indy 500, summer can officially begin. I thought I’d celebrate by proclaiming that you don’t need to be as scared of the sun as you’ve been taught in recent decades. The sun is your friend and can help you.
First, your body needs vitamin D3. Among other things, it helps with the absorption of calcium. The most efficient way to get D3 is to expose your skin to sunlight. Yes, bare skin. Without sunscreen. In the direct sun. The good news is that during the sunnier months, your daily quota can be achieved in about 10 to 15 minutes, according to the U.S. News and World Report. (Grayer months may require longer exposure, and who really wants to have bare arms or legs for a couple hours when it’s cold? In this case, you’re better off with a quality vitamin D3 supplement. You can also get D3 from fatty fish such as salmon or tuna.)
The key here is moderation. You want to gradually expose your skin to the sun so that you can safely go out without worrying about burning. Work yourself up gradually, increasing your time in small increments. The worst thing you can do is to overdo your time in the sun and allow yourself to burn, as repeated sunburns increase your risk for skin cancer.
But here’s some news: People who are regularly in the sun, and slowly build up their time in the sun, may have less risk for cancer than those who never go outside. The sunlight in these cases has been suggested to show a protective effect for many types of cancers, due to the increase in vitamin D production. Research shows that death rates for certain cancers are lower in southern latitudes, according to the National Institute of Health. Experiments have shown promising results as well: In studies of cancer cells and of tumors in mice, vitamin D has been found to have several activities that might slow or prevent the development of cancer, according to the NIH.
While you allow yourself longer periods of exposure, remember that the best protection is clothing, hats, and umbrellas rather than chemical sunscreens. These creams tend to give a false sense of security; you think you’re safe from harmful rays and as a result you may stay out too long.
They also often have the effect of suppressing the redness from a sunburn that would otherwise give you a big warning flag that it’s time to go inside. You are better off simply limiting your time in the sun. If you do need to use sunscreen, get one that offers both UVA and UVB protection (often called “broad spectrum”).
Ever wonder why you feel better in the summer, with better mood and more energy? Sunshine is a likely contributor on a number of issues. For one, it stimulates seratonin production which protects against depression, especially when coupled with exercise. Outdoor exercise releases more endorphins than indoor workouts. Outside activities are a double shot of goodness.
Solar rays also regulate melatonin, which is what tells you it’s bedtime. Trouble sleeping? Get natural light in the morning to help you wake up and be sure to cut back on light in the evening — including TV and other screens from electronic devices.
I’m tired of seeing so many people creeping around like a vampires, afraid of the sun. If someone wonders why they feel crummy all the time then I have an easy and free solution that’s worth a try. You do need to guard against overexposure and burning but this can be done without slathering yourself with goop or living like a mutant cave-dwelling fish. So open the drapes, get outside, soak up those rays, and be healthy.
Stephanie Haines is a Greenfield native. She can be reached through her website, stephaniehaines.com.