What is the importance of getting sunlight during the winter months? Why not stay indoors, keep warm, and get the sun’s rays during the spring and summer? Well, if you want to strengthen your immune system, elevate your mood, prevent osteoporosis, decrease cancer risk, and improve sleep you will want to get some direct sunlight exposure during the darkest months of the year.
Increased Vitamin D Levels
In recent years there has been no shortage of research regarding the health benefits associated with vitamin D. These benefits include boosting immunity, enhancing mood, increasing bone mass, and reducing the risk of certain cancers.
The mechanisms of how vitamin D works and is utilized in the body are becoming more well understood. In many text books, vitamin D is actually referred to as a hormone because it is utilized for communication between many types of white blood cells. In light of this recent information vitamin D has become one of the most popular supplements in Canada. The recommended dosages continue to increase as we learn more about this nutrient. In fact, it is now recommended that all infants take 400IU of vitamin D per day. Just a few years ago this was considered to be the adult dose.
While supplementation is highly recommended it is very important to expose yourself to daily sunlight throughout the year to promote your own natural vitamin D synthesis. Sunlight increases the amount of vitamin D produced in the body. When UV radiation from the sun hits cholesterol molecules in the skin it initiates a process that begins to synthesize vitamin D.
There is something special about natural UV radiation. The benefits of optimal vitamin D levels (enhanced immunity, elevated mood, stronger bones, and decreased cancer risk) are not likely obtained solely from supplementation. It seems that natural UV exposure adds elements beyond just vitamin D. These factors may be related to hormone production in the body.
The body’s internal clock is called the circadian rhythm. It is governed by the pineal gland, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland. These tissues operate like command central when it comes to hormone production. They govern the production of melatonin, growth hormone, stress hormones, and sex hormones.
Melatonin, a hormone that helps improve the quality of sleep is produced in absence of light. However, it is produced in highest amounts on days when the body was exposed to optimal levels of UV radiation. Therefore, you may sleep better after days where you had been exposed to natural UV radiation from the sun.
Growth hormone helps the body heal and recover from the wear and tear of the day. Growth hormone production is highest during sleep, typically between midnight and 5 AM. UV sunlight radiation, weight bearing exercise, and protein consumption promote optimal growth hormone synthesis.
I recommend all my patients get at least 20-30 minutes of direct natural UV exposure on a daily basis. This means going outside for a walk, ski, or cycle not just on sunny days but also on overcast days as well. The beneficial rays of the winter sun penetrate through the cloud layer so you don’t have to wait for the sunshine in order to get the benefits of natural UV exposure. Get outside and have some fun this winter!