I just returned from a trip to Cancun, Mexico, and I thoroughly enjoyed basking in the warmth of the sun. I love all seasons, but about this time of year I am ready to feel the warmth of the sun on my cold body, which has stayed covered in abundant clothing (except when running) for the past several months. I happen to believe sunshine is a good thing, and has many healthy benefits. I have been a recipient of those benefits most of my life, having lived more of my life outdoors than inside.
There is a lot of research to back up my belief that sunlight is good for you. While it is wise to avoid burning or excess tanning, it should be realized that solar UVB radiation is the primary source of vitamin D for most Americans as well as Europeans. Dietary sources are inadequate and supplements have to be used carefully. The body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, which is the reason for its nickname as the “sunshine vitamin.” It is added to mild and fatty fish like salmon as well as milk, but many people do not get enough of it.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is considered important for bone health. In adults, vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, and it can lead to rickets in children. It is required by your body to perform functions such as controlling not only calcium absorption, but also phosphorous absorption from the food in your intestines, strengthening your immune system, and regulating growth of cells. A study from a report out of London showed people with a vitamin D deficiency are twice as likely to die, compared to people whose blood contained higher amounts of the “sunshine vitamin,” according to Austrian researchers. Their study showed death rates from any cause, as well as from heart-related problems, varied greatly depending on vitamin D. A number of recent studies have also indicated vitamin D may offer a variety of other health benefits, including protecting against cancer, peripheral artery disease, and tuberculosis. U.S. researchers said vitamin D may extend the lives of people with colon and rectal cancer. Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused by a melatonin imbalance initiated by lack of exposure of the sun. Chronic vitamin D deficiency is often misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia because its symptoms are so similar: muscle weakness, aches and pains. Depression can be helped by a walk in the sunshine as the sun enhances the natural production of serotonin. Sunshine actually produces skin protection. When a person is exposed to sun rays, skin protectors are sent to the surface of their skin to prevent a person from becoming burned by the sun in the future. Evidence of this is a tan.
The list goes on and on with the benefits of sunshine, but statistics show up to 40% of the U.S. population is vitamin D deficient. Up to 60% of all hospital patients are deficient. 76% of pregnant mothers are severely vitamin D deficient, causing widespread vitamin D deficiencies in the their unborn children, which predisposes them to type 1 diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia later in life. 81% of the children born to these mothers were deficient. Up to 80% of nursing home patients are vitamin D deficient. I hope this is enough statistics to grab your attention! It did mine.
With all the bad press on sun bathing, or just having your skin exposed to sunlight, health benefits have almost been forgotten. We have a generation that believes sunbathing is as bad for your health as smoking! It is true that the wrong kind of exposure to the sun will increase your risk of skin cancer, but the right kind of safe sunbathing can still make you happier and healthier. There is not a “one size fits all” answer. If you are on any medications that increase sunburns, or your doctor has directed you to stay out of the sun, do so. If you have severely sensitive skin to sunlight you can only tolerate small amounts of sun. Different skin types tolerate the sun differently. I am olive skinned so my skin tolerates longer periods in the sun before burning. Wait to apply your sunscreen after ten or fifteen minutes of initial sunscreen- free exposure in order to give your body some time to absorb the rays for vitamin D production. I don’t bother applying sunscreen when I run, because I sweat it off. However, when I hit the river in my kayak for the day, I do apply sun screen, and I make sure I have a long sleeve shirt packed, and I wear a hat, knowing spending that length of time in the sun requires protection. Use some common sense. The Bible encourages moderation in all things, and I think God knows more than we do.
The next time you are tempted to think of wrinkles and skin cancer remember the many healing properties of the sun. (I do strongly encourage good skincare with natural products for wrinkles). Sunlight exposure is truly one of the most powerful healing therapies in the world, far surpassing the best efforts of today’s so-called “advanced medicine.” There is no drug, no surgical procedure, and no high-tech procedure that comes even close to the astonishing healing power of natural sunlight. With that said, may we all bask in the rays of love of the One who created the sun, THE SON. We never have to concern ourselves with overexposure, quite the contrary.