For most of us, this is the time of year we get the most exposure to sunlight, which comes with pros and cons.
As with all things healthy living, getting a healthy sun intake is just a balancing act between preventing overexposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, which increase the risk of sunburn, premature ageing, and skin cancer while, at the same time, maximising the beneficial aspects of sunlight that influence levels of vitamin D and enhance mood, energy, and sleep.
Your body makes Vitamin D when your skin is exposed to UVB rays. Around one fifth of UK adults may be deficient in the ‘sunshine’ vitamin. A lack of vitamin D is associated with depression, bone fractures, hypertension, autoimmune diseases and cancer – and too little sun exposure is the biggest reason why levels are low.
We can also get serotonin from the sun, which is believed to help regulate mood and social behaviour, appetite and digestion as well as sleep and memory, but that’s not the only role the sun plays in our health.
Recent research from Edinburgh University reports that the skin contains large amounts of nitric oxide, a compound that dilates blood vessels to reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Brief, repeated exposures to sunlight is ideal to get the benefits without the damaging effects. Those spending more time outdoors should take precautions by wearing a high sun protection factor SPF cream.
How to safely enjoy summer sunlight
Use a mineral-based sunscreen and/or UPF-rated clothing to protect yourself at all times
Use UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes from brief unprotected eye exposures
Consume antioxidant-rich foods such as turmeric, artichoke, deeply pigmented fruits (such as purple or red grapes, blueberries), celery, parsley, and dark chocolate to help protect against skin cancer. What a great excuse to eat chocolate!
No matter how careful you are, check your body for new or changing moles every month, and visit a dermatologist once a year or more (depending on your personal risk level) for a skin-cancer screening
If you are concerned ask your doctor to check your level of vitamin D. If you are deficient, take a supplement of vitamin D3