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Soaking up the sun: why it’s essential for our health

POSTED Friday 29 March 2019

It’s that time of year again; we woke up on Sunday not knowing what time it was, whether we’d gained an hour’s sleep or lost it, and debating whether we could use it as an excuse to be late to work on today. As daylight saving time happened at 1am on Sunday 31 March, we chatted to health expert Peter Antonio, about the benefits of having more hours of sunlight.

Whether you like to exercise outside or not, we all know that getting outside in the sun is good for us. Exposing skin to the sun (in a healthy way, not burning!) enables our skin to produce large amounts of vitamin D when the sun is high in the sky. Your body is designed to get the vitamin D it needs by producing it when your bare skin is exposed to sunlight. This is the vitamin we need to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy, as it helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet. (Check out the NHS website for more info). Nutritionist Peter Antonio looks at the importance of getting outside – whether to exercise or just go for a stroll – on having a healthy body.

Vitamin D intake has been in the spotlight recently as an essential nutrient which we all may struggle to get enough of. A lack of this can lead to all sorts of issues, including weakened bones, teeth and deformities such as rickets in children. This crucial vitamin is involved in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.

Babies up to the age of 1 require 8.5 – 1mcg per day. Children from the age of 1 and adults require 10mcg per day. Some foods contain vitamin D naturally, including oily fish, red meat, egg yolks and fortified foods, however always in varying amounts.

Vitamin D can be synthesised in the body from direct sunlight exposure, but only at certain times of the year. In the autumn and winter months, it becomes very difficult to get the level of exposure required to make enough vitamin D from sunlight alone. During this time, you need to get vitamin D from your diet and/or supplements. It is advised that if you are not regularly getting enough foods containing vitamin D, then to take 10mcg every day during the autumn and winter seasons. If however during the spring and summer you do not get exposed to enough sunlight during the optimum time of day, then a supplement should be considered. Furthermore, people from African, African-Caribbean and south Asian backgrounds who have darker skin are at a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency, as it takes longer for darker skin to produce vitamin D than lighter skin, and so should consider taking a 10mcg supplement year round.

All year round we should try and get outside more and enjoy the real world, but during the spring and summer months, it becomes a genuine need for our bodies. It doesn’t count sitting inside by a sunny window – your body can’t make vitamin D in this scenario because ultraviolet B (UVB) rays (the ones your body needs to make vitamin D) can’t get through the glass!

So now the days are longer, there’s more time to fit in a walk, play some tennis outside, or football… anything to get your skin exposed to some sunlight. The best thing is, this ticks both exercise and getting some vitamin D off your list in one go! This will not only help your body in an immediate sense, but also produce an essential vitamin, and create some lasting benefits to your mental health.

Keep an eye on our Social Sport timetable for pay-and-go outdoor sport options for Term 3!

29.03.19

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