We've all heard medical experts say we need to spend time in the sun to get enough Vitamin D. But many of us don't know why Vitamin D is so important, or how much sun we need to maintain healthy levels. Take a closer look at why Vitamin D matters and how you can keep your levels up.
The Benefits of Vitamin D
Your body requires Vitamin D to absorb calcium and grow and maintain healthy bones. While this is the vitamin's only proven benefit, evidence also suggests Vitamin D regulates the body's immune and neuromuscular systems, and plays a significant role in the development and maintenance of human cells.
Low levels of Vitamin D have also been linked to a host of health concerns including depression, heart disease, weight gain, and breast, colon, and prostate cancer. The Vitamin D Council, which promotes awareness of the impact of Vitamin D deficiency, also claims the vitamin could help treat or prevent autism, chronic pain, diabetes, high blood pressure, influenza, and autoimmune and neuromuscular diseases.
Ways to Get Vitamin D
The human body makes Vitamin D when it's exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Some foods also contain Vitamin D, including oily fish, beef liver, and egg yolks, but they contain the vitamin in such small amounts that your diet would be unlikely to ever give you enough. Vitamin D supplements can help you keep a healthy level if you cannot get enough from the sun, such as during wintertime or through your diet.
How to Get Vitamin D From the Sun
The most efficient way to generate Vitamin D is through direct exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, but this can expose you to dangerous levels of ultraviolet radiation which could cause sunburns or even skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology cautions against unprotected exposure to sunlight, and recommends using a sunscreen outdoors. While Vitamin D production takes longer with sunscreen, it's safer than direct exposure to UV rays. For safe sun exposure, apply a sunscreen lotion 30 minutes before sun exposure to give it time to bind to your skin, and reapply it every two hours.
Skin with a high concentration of melanin absorbs less sunlight than paler skin, so people with dark skin need to spend more time in the sun each day to produce healthy levels of Vitamin D. Very fair people may need to spend just 15 minutes in the sun each day, while people of Middle Eastern and African-American descent may need a couple of hours in the sun to achieve the same effect.
Where you live in the world and the weather conditions also cause the required time in the sun to vary. As a rule of thumb, you should spend half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink to maintain healthy Vitamin D levels. The more skin you expose to the sun, the more Vitamin D you'll create. The suggested times above assume that you're exposing a quarter of your body to the sun.
Vitamin D is so important for the body and the mind, so make sure you apply your sunscreen and get outside to maintain the optimum level of this vital vitamin.