Something about being outdoors and in the indigenous glow of the sun makes me feel good. I resent the fact that I’m told to cover up or slather on sunscreen before I go sprint or swim or whatever. It doesn’t seem fair or natural to me. How could the sun or the wind or the rain not be good for us human beings who have evolved under our star’s brightest light?
Don’t misunderstand – I’m not discounting the fact that skin cancer is a very real issue. My dad is a survivor of this disease. Instead, I’ll briefly discuss why spending outside under the sun has some healthy benefits.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin and is primarily derived via exposure to UV-B rays from sunlight. Not getting enough vitamin D leads to serious health issues.
From the American Society for Clinical Nutrition:
Vitamin D deficiency not only causes rickets among children but also precipitates and exacerbates osteoporosis among adults and causes the painful bone disease osteomalacia. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risks of deadly cancers, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes mellitus.
A lot of people are not getting sufficient vitamin D. Studies record that 34% of white males are deficient in vitamin D; a significantly higher percentage of minorities and women are deficient. From the Pubmed.gov study on Vitamin D:
Numerous epidemiologic studies suggest that exposure to sunlight, which enhances the production of vitamin D in the skin, is important in preventing many chronic diseases. Because very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, sunlight supplies most of our vitamin D requirement. Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent…in adults of all ages who have increased skin pigmentation or who always wear sun protection or limit their outdoor activities.
Essentially, if you block sunlight from your being through either sunscreen or staying inside, you increase your risk of chronic disease. We’re told constantly that we should use sunscreen. Unfortunately, sunscreen primarily protects against UV-B rays, not the harmful UV-A rays. Sunscreens block more than half of the UV-B rays, preventing up to 95% of vitamin D synthesis.
Additionally, muscle efficiency may be negatively impacted by avoiding sunlight.
From Science Daily:
New research shows for the first time a link between vitamin D levels and muscle efficiency. The findings may explain the physical fatigue commonly experienced by patients with vitamin D deficiency, with broad implications for a large section of society.
Perhaps the right approach is to spend a little time in the sun and enjoy it in moderation. This seems to work with most things related to pleasure.
If you decide that you dig the indoors and prefer to avoid the risk of skin cancer all together, you can find some vitamin D in some foods that have plenty of other fantastic heath benefits like salmon, tuna, mackerel, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks.
The bottom line – find a way to get your vitamin D, and make it feel right for you.