“Go outside and play.”
Sure you thought your mother was just tired of hearing you complain that there was nothing to do, but really she was concerned about your health. Vitamin D is an essential component to our overall health, and one of the best ways to ensure you get the proper amount of vitamin D is to get direct sun exposure at least twice each week.
So what is Vitamin D? Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, most well-known for its role in bone health as it helps the body absorb calcium – but that is only a small part of what this vitamin does. It also plays a major role in maintaining a healthy functioning immune system.
There are two ways to get Vitamin D: from food or from the sun. The most common foods that people tend to think of when they think of vitamin D are milk and a variety of fortified cereals. However the best dietary sources of vitamin D are certain types of fish such as herring, catfish, salmon, trout, and halibut. system, slows down the aging process, reduces your risk for certain types of cancers, and it seems to positively affect weight management.
It is rare to absorb enough vitamin D in your diet so it is important to also get proper sun exposure. With sun exposure, vitamin D is derived from a form of cholesterol that is converted to vitamin D from the exposure. This is easy to do – just make sure you spend time in the sun at least 2x a week when the UV index is greater than 3 – and you should be without sunscreen for this rather limited time, as sunscreen blocks the absorption of vitamin D from the sun. I’d recommend 10-15min for light skinned individuals, and 20-30minutes for African-Americans, since darker skin pigmentations makes it harder to utilize the time in the sun.
Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is an all too common problem for many of us, for several reasons. Vitamin D deficiency is most often seen in people that live further from the equator (which includes most of the United States). This is primarily because of the increased distance from the sun during winter months. In addition, most Americans do not spend enough time outside, which obviously limits their exposure to sunlight. The list of problems that results from such a deficiency includes:
High Blood Pressure
Cold & Flu
Signs of Aging
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)
Needless to say with a list like this it is a good idea to get enough vitamin D. Ideally, this will be from eating the right foods and getting enough sunlight. With most of the signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency being rather vague, the only way to know for certain if this is a concern for you is to have your doctor check your level. This can easily be done with a blood test. If you are low, your doctor may tell you to change your diet and to get outside. Your doctor may also recommend a vitamin D supplement – but it is important to note that you should not start one prior to having your levels checked because excess vitamin D can be toxic as well.
In the meantime, listen to your mother and ‘Go play outside.’