Summer is upon us: time spent outdoors, picnics, barbecues, vacations to the beach or the mountains, or just a day at a water park, it all leads up to fun in the sun. Why is it that I always feel so good, exhausted sometimes, but that good exhausted, after spending the day in the garden, or at the beach? Why do I sleep so well on those nights, in a house without air-conditioning, even if it only goes down to 75?
My first idea was that it was a response to the physical activity. But the thing is, I am pretty active – I garden, I walk our dogs, I clean house, I preserve food. After a little research, I found out that the beach has many restorative powers, like the iodine present in sea-water that helps thyroid function, and the salt in the water that has cleansing properties. But I realized that it wasn’t just on beach days. In fact, I feel much better in the warmer months, when I can get outside. I still walk the dogs, no matter the weather, we are out there, rain, snow, sub-zero (we don’t get much of that in NJ, but a rainy 33 can be more menacing of a walk than a dry -2), but I don’t sleep as well, and just don’t feel as well in the winter months.
I continued my research and I stumbled on some interesting facts about Vitamin D, and how varying levels can have a huge effect on how I am feeling. Vitamin D is photosynthesized by our skin, and we can reach an intake level adequate to meet our daily needs with 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure, depending upon where you live and you skin tone. Yes, you can take a supplement, but the sun is free, and no, 10 – 20 minutes of exposure is not going to cause skin cancer. Of course, if you are photosensitive, or you’re taking medication that makes you photosensitive, you should avoid exposure.
I also came across an article about the benefits of sunlight that gave me some food for thought: while the extensive use of sunscreen has reduced incidents skin cancer, there has also been an increase in musculo-skeletal disorders and autoimmune diseases, two things that are connected to Vitamin D photosynthesis. It will be interesting to see how bone health issues play out in the future, if we continue to use so much sunscreen and limit that amount of time we spend outdoors.
Sun exposure also improves serotonin levels, which helps melatonin levels. These things help people fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and get better sleep. I have two insomniac friends that vacation at the Jersey shore every summer and they always say that they sleep better that week than any other week of the year. OK, so you say, “Well, they are on vacation. No stress.” I beg to differ – even if the vacation is to a place you really want to visit, as a parent/mom, there is tremendous pressure to ensure everyone is having a good time, that everyone is taken care of. But they are in the beach all day, everyday, breathing in the salt air, sitting in the sun.
I’m not saying throw the sunscreen in the trash – if you are going to be on the beach all day, or you’re coaching at soccer camp for 8 hours, by all means, slather up with the sunscreen. But if you are just going for a walk at lunch time, and you will only be outdoors for 15 or 20 minutes, forget the sunscreen and let the Vitamin D do its wonders. Focus on One for July? Get outside every day, even for just 10 minutes, and have a little fun in the sun!