The Many Health Benefits Of Sunshine

2012-06-22 | |
Last updated: 2012-06-22

If the heat so many of us have been experiencing was not a clear indicator, it is certainly summer now. In the Northern Hemisphere, June 20th, 2012 represents the day of the year with the most hours of daylight. For those of us who have recently reached the official start of summer, it is a good time to think about the health effects that come from exposure to sunlight. Unfortunately, however, so many of the messages we receive are only about the dangers of too much sun exposure.

While we cannot really blame public health organizations for so much information about using sun block and avoiding skin cancer, it is too easy to get the impression that we should just stay out of the sun altogether. Certainly too much exposure to sunlight does have negative health consequences, but it is also important to keep in mind how few hours of sunlight many of us get. Whether as a result of our work or our choices for entertainment, many of us are actually missing out from the benefits of exposure to sunlight.

How Much Sun Exposure Do We Get?

Given the differences in lifestyles, it is a challenge to say just how much sunlight any one person experiences. However, it is fair to say that people who work indoors and people who work shift work are less likely to get much exposure to sunlight. Similarly, those who cover their skin because of health conditions or religious reasons are also less likely to get sufficient exposure. Lastly, the elderly are more inclined to be inside meaning that they too will experience less sunlight than other groups of people.

How Much Sun Exposure Should We Be Getting?

While it may be difficult to determine how much sunlight we do get, knowing the amount that we need is easier. Research published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2006 determined the duration of sun exposure required depending on season and time of day. What their studies found was that at noon in summer, it takes between 2 and 14 minutes for an adult with a bare face and arms to get enough sunshine to create a healthy level of vitamin D. This assumes a person gets this much sun 3 or 4 times per week.

However, at this time of day, the skin begins to be damaged and to turn red after only 8 minutes making lunchtime a poor time to get that required sunlight. In contrast, at 10 AM and 3 PM, 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight produces this same beneficial level of Vitamin D during the summer months. Again, this assumes that a person gets this much sun 3 or 4 times each week.

It is also important to remember that if you experience sunlight closer to dawn or dusk that more exposure is required. A greater amount of sun is also required in spring, fall and winter in order to get an appropriate amount of vitamin D. Location is also factor with regard to the right amount of sun and those living closer to the poles will also need more sunlight than people closer to the equator.

Of course, these results only apply to those with a fairly light skin tone. For those with much darker skin and the protection from ultra violet radiation that such skin affords, the amount of sunlight required is approximately one hour to 90 minutes. What this means is that many people with dark skin who work indoors are likely deficient in their vitamin D levels.

Getting our vitamin D from sunlight is important because research indicates that we most of us cannot get enough vitamin D from diet or supplements on their own.

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Category: Disease Information, Disease Prevention, Health Risks, Medical Research

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