In earlier blog posts we highlighted the health risks associated with summer including dehydration and heat stroke. Now it’s time to highlight why seniors should soak in the sun, albeit safely, to take advantage of the long-term health benefits that sunshine provides.
Have your parents created their vitamin D today?
While other vitamins are sourced from the food we consume, our bodies can manufacture vitamin D following exposure to sunlight. You don’t need to sit in the sun for long. According to a Healthbeat post, a publication by the Harvard Medical School, only five to 30 minutes twice a day is needed. It doesn’t matter where the sun hits, whether face, legs or arms.
However, if you are sitting in the sun for the purpose of vitamin D production, you have to skip the sunscreen. In sunlight, the ultraviolet B radiation is responsible for initiating the production of vitamin D and this radiation cannot be absorbed if you wear sunscreen.
While the health benefits of other vitamins are well-known (beta-carotene and vitamins C and E are known as antioxidants) the benefits of vitamin D haven’t been as conclusively documented. Though low levels of vitamin D have been linked to health risks such as high blood pressure and heart disease, the links is not definitive. However what is known is the benefits of vitamin D and stronger bones.
Vitamin D and Decreased Frailty
The Journal of the American Medical Association says that a senior is considered frail if he/she exhibits three of the following characteristics:
- low physical activity
- muscle weakness
- slowed performance
- fatigue or poor endurance
- unintentional weight loss
Frailty can lead to seniors being more “likely to become disabled, to be admitted to the hospital, and to have health problems.” Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) found that low levels of vitamin D were associated with triple the risk of death in frail seniors compared to seniors who had higher levels of vitamin D and who weren’t considered frail. Though the study didn’t determine whether frailty was linked to low vitamin D levels, Ellen Smit, the lead author and a nutritional epidemiologist at OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, says that “it may not really matter which came first because you are worse off and at greater risk of dying than other older people who are frail and who don’t have low vitamin D. This is an important finding because we already know there is a biological basis for this. Vitamin D impacts muscle function and bones, so it makes sense that it plays a big role in frailty.”
Time in the sun can lead to a better night’s sleep and a better mood
Sitting in the sun for a short portion during the day can also lead to more positive moods and a better night’s sleep, according to The Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health article published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal. This is because sunlight, or lack thereof, is tied to the production of serotonin and melatonin; these hormones play a role in our circadian rhythms and emotional well-being. Serotonin is produced during the day following exposure to sunlight and its benefits include a “moderately high serotonin levels result in a more positive moods and a calm yet focused mental outlook.” At night, the hormone is converted to melatonin. In this form, the hormone is responsible for “countering infection, inflammation, cancer, and auto-immunity.” When people are exposed to sunlight in the morning, the production of melatonin begins sooner and they fall asleep sooner.
With our earlier post on fun activities that you can enjoy with your elderly loved ones on a sunny afternoon, there are plenty opportunities to get your daily dose of sunshine.