Direct sunlight is an extraordinarily valuable gift from the Lord, supporting both mental and physical health. Exposure to the sun is linked to impressive physical benefits in the areas of sleep, immunity, depression, bone strength, cancer prevention, and more.
But, the sun also has a dark side. This post will highlight the benefits, the recommended practices, the dangers, and the steps I am taking to avoid problems with sun exposure.
The most widely recognized value of the sun relates to Vitamin D. The body has the ability to produce this vitamin from moderate sun exposure to skin. Depending on skin tone and absorption rate, some sites suggest that as little as 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure to the uncovered arms and legs (without sunscreen) two or three times per week can produce an adequate amount of Vitamin D.
Timing is also important. It is recommended that the sun bath occur between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm.
This article gives practical information about Vitamin D and sun exposure.
To reap the benefits, attention must also be paid to location and season. Regions between 37 degrees north and 37 degrees south latitude have access to UVB rays all year. However, areas north of this in the US, and south of this in other countries, must rely on food sources and supplements during late fall and winter months for optimal Vitamin D.
Some sites note that there are other factors affecting the availability of Vitamin D. Whens sun tan lotion of SPF 8 or higher, is used, Vitamin D cannot be produced. Vitamin D is only available on clear days with no haze blocking the sun. Finally, if a person’s shadow is longer than him/her , Vitamin D is unavailable.
The following articles explains how low levels of vitamin d are associated with cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, osteoporosis, and hypertension. Vitamin D is also needed for building strong bones and teeth.
The sun is considered the best source of Vitamin D. But, even for those living in the sun-belt, Vitamin D from both food and supplements may be needed by certain groups. For example, it has been shown (as explained in the article above), that the elderly have decreased ability to synthesize Vitamin D from the sun.
Also, it should be noted that supplemental Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and must be consumed with fat to be absorbed. A separate blog post will highlight foods that are rich in Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is not the only benefit of the sun’s rays. Exposure to sunlight also aids in sleep. 10 to 30 minutes of daily morning sunlight, throughout the year in all latitudes, impacts each person’s circadian rhythms. Exposure to the morning sun assists the body in producing melatonin at night, signaling the body to sleep. The benefits of sleep are discussed in a separate blog post.
Exposure to natural sunlight also assists the body in producing endorphins, leading to feelings of well-being and warding off seasonal affective disorder. This form of depression impacts a significant number of people during winter months. The following article explains seasonal affective disorder.
Compelling long term studies demonstrate the vast disparity between breast cancer rates in northern states, compared with states receiving more direct sun light all year.
The map below shows the breast cancer numbers per 100,000 people in the United States. This is stunning evidence supporting the importance of sunlight’s Vitamin D production in limiting breast cancer.
Research is demonstrating that there is a higher risk of death corresponding to higher latitudes from not only breast cancer, but ovarian, colon, prostrate, pancreatic, lymphoma, and others, compared with lethality from these forms of cancer from lower latitude states.
Finally, the sun is being shown to strengthen immunity to disease by boosting the infection-fighting T cells of the immune system.
This article suggests 7 health benefits of sunlight:
As noted earlier, there is, ironically, a “dark side” to the sun. Over-exposure to the sun’s rays can lead to skin cancer, aging skin, and damage to unprotected eyes. Because of these very real dangers, it is essential to limit unprotected sun exposure.
Most sites recommend covering unprotected skin with sunscreen after 15 to 30 minutes of sun exposure. SPF 30 is highly recommended. Lotion should be re-applied every two hours. A wide-brimmed hat will protect the face and eyes, along with high quality sun glasses. The sun glasses should offer 99 to 100% protection from UVA and UVB rays.
Here is a good article explaining the difference between Polaroid and UV protection.
The following article suggests ways to safely get sun exposure and briefly explains the dangers of overexposure.
Since 2018, my husband and I have been taking a late-morning beach walk at least 5 days per week. We wear shorts, sleeveless tops, and high quality 100 % UV sun glasses. Joe uses SPF 30 on his entire body. I use SPF 30 on my face alone. He always wears a hat. I have recently begun to wear a light-weight wide-brimmed hat. We make it a point to get out of the sun after 50 minutes.