Just a few minutes of sunshine each day has significant health benefits for seniors
Do you remember telling your kids to go outside and enjoy the sunny day? It turns out, this is good advice for senior adults, too. Studies have shown that just a few minutes of sunshine each day has significant health benefits. Three important reasons to get a dose of daily sunshine are:
- To keep your bones healthy.
Sunlight — with its ability to produce vitamin D — may reduce the risk of hip fractures (and also high blood pressure and stroke or heart attack) for older adults, a study published by the journal Maturitas says. Regular sun exposure, without sunscreen, causes your skin to produce vitamin D naturally. Vitamin D stimulates the absorption of bone-strengthening calcium and phosphorus in the body. For most people, exposure to sunlight is the most important source of vitamin D.
While the study cautions that “excess ultraviolet exposure is a risk factor for skin cancer development,” both the study authors and Harvard Medical School’s Family Health Guide say that getting some sunshine is healthy. What’s a healthy amount? There are a lot of factors to consider, including skin type, diet, geographic location and time of day, but generally, your skin needs to be uncovered (no sunscreen) to absorb the sun’s rays at mid-day outside (sitting inside next to a window doesn’t work) for about 20 minutes daily.
If developing skin cancer is a concern for you, there are a few foods that contain vitamin D naturally, including salmon, mackerel, tuna, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. You can get more than the daily recommended amount if you eat just one small can of pink salmon. Milk, breakfast cereals, and juice drinks are commonly fortified with vitamin D. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine says that older adults can reduce their risk of bone fractures by taking an oral supplement of vitamin D every day.
- To sleep better.
Instead of popping a sleeping pill before bedtime, try making sure you’re exposed to early-morning sunlight. How does that help you sleep at night? You know the sensation — your eyes are closed, but you can tell it’s daylight. When you open your eyes, a message is sent to the brain, which then shuts down its production of melatonin (which makes us sleepy). When it gets dark outside, your body gets the signal again and you feel sleepy. That’s the sleep-wake cycle in a nutshell. But if you don’t get the early-morning light — by staying inside, with shades drawn — you don’t trigger the cycle and you can disrupt your normal bedtime and sleeping pattern.
- To improve your mood.
Of all the things you can do to fight depression, getting outside and enjoying the sunshine may be one of the easiest to do. According to the Mayo Clinic, “reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.” A lack of sunlight can cause a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that’s common in winter, and in people who get very little sun exposure because they stay inside. You don’t have to play 18 holes of golf to reap the benefits. Think of how flowers lean toward the sun. That’s your brain on sunshine. On sunny days the brain produces more serotonin, which is a natural antidepressant.
So take take that advice you gave your kids: Go outside and enjoy the sunny day!