Just "D" Facts about Vitamin D

Benefits of Moderate UV Sunshine Exposure

Summer Fitness!

Posted by D3forU on April 5, 2008

by Scott Eric Barrett

When summer arrives we naturally gravitate toward the beaches, lakes and parks for outdoor activities. For most, this rite of passage usually involves packing away sweaters, parkas and boots and donning shorts, swimwear and sandals.

Wearing less clothing allows our bodies to soak up more healthy rays of sunlight; however, many people who don’t exercise or live healthy lifestyles are reluctant to shed their clothes and fully enjoy summer. Unfortunately, many out-of-shape people won’t even leave the house during summer.

Well, those days are over. Get with the program and set a course for a healthy, fitness- and sun-filled summer.

An Age-Old Friendship

Copernicus declared the sun the center of our universe more than 400 years ago. Throughout history, the human race has enjoyed a special relationship with the sun. Primitive societies in every continent worshiped it as a god for providing warmth and helping crops grow. Hippocrates and Pythagoras wrote extensively on the use of sunlight in the processes of healing. The Romans made use of the sun in training their gladiators, believing the rays strengthened and enlarged their muscles.

Greek physician Antyllus wrote the first positive review for sunbathing more than 2,000 years ago: “Persons expose themselves to the sun, some cover themselves with oil and others do not; some lie down and some are seated, while others stand or play. Those who lie down, rest on sand or a cushion. This sunlight exposure prevents an increase in body weight and strengthens the muscles. It makes fat disappear. It reduces, as well, hydropic swelling.”

Writing in modern times, Dr. Phil Maffetone, chairman and CEO of the Maffetone Report, an alternative health newsletter, says there’s nothing like a clear sunny day, whether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter.

“A bright sunny day makes people feel more healthy,” he says. “Too often we hear about how the sun is bad. The only time the sun is bad for us is when our bodies aren’t healthy enough to benefit from it or when we abuse it. Our skin actually was made for the sun.”

The catchword for taking advantage of the sun’s health benefits is moderation. When ultraviolet rays from the sun come in contact with ergosterol, a fluid found just under the skin, they convert it to vitamin D, which is absorbed into the bloodstream. Studies suggest sunshine may help with depression and ease anxiety.

Osteoporosis afflicts greater numbers of women at a younger age each year. Recent Mayo Clinic statistics reveal that one of every four women older than 45 and nine of 10 women over 75 suffer from varying degrees of osteoporosis. It primarily is caused by stress and changes in the endocrine system, and is accelerated by the lack of calcium, protein, vitamins, minerals and essential enzymes needed by the bones to stay solid. Nutritionist Sam Zeiler says a healthy diet, physical exercise and sunshine (vitamin D) are also essential.

Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., director of light therapy studies at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., and author of Winter Blues, says UVR influences many of the body’s systems.

“The sun treats so many things that experts have only begun to uncover them,” he says. “Throughout the year, the sun hitting your skin produces natural vitamin D, which prevents several forms of cancer.”

Interestingly, people can’t overdose on natural vitamin D from the sun, even with day-after-day exposure, whereas synthetic vitamin D supplements can easily cause vitamin D toxicity.

Since moderate sun exposure is healthy, why not combine it with moderate exercise?

Walking In The Light

Two of the best forms of moderate outdoor exercise are walking and hiking. Walking is an easy, healthy activity. It is a natural physical activity. It is inexpensive, aerobic and safe. For instance, pedestrians are less likely to get hit in the head with a baseball while walking down the street than while running to third base.

Whether walking through the neighborhood, around a track or at a local park, experts agree walking is a great way to get in shape. It expends energy, assisting in the long-term control of body weight, and activates the metabolism of high-density lipoproteins and insulin, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and non-insulin-dependent diabetes in adulthood.

Because walking is weight-bearing activity (walkers carry their body weight), it also strengthens muscles. Walking, especially on a sunny day, helps relieve stress and anxiety, and improves mood and cognitive function. Endorphins released by the body during a walking workout can lift a walker’s spirits and keep them there throughout the day. Walking is a sensible, relatively risk-free form of exercise for healthy individuals of any age and a perfect way to see and enjoy the environment.

One of the greatest perks of hiking is the feeling of escapism, temporarily fleeing the hustle and bustle of everyday life to commune with nature. A bonus of this is hikers often work out longer than they planned because it doesn’t seem like a workout when they’re on a trail.

Hiking and walking go hand in hand. Taking a hike is merely taking a walk on a footpath, whether along a neighborhood trail or a mountain ridge. The sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors are what sets hiking apart.

Emory University Rollins School of Public Health scientist Howard Frumkin, M.D., says wilderness experiences such as hiking also may have health benefits, such as the feelings of vigor. He believes many environmental exposures may have positive health effects and could actually help prevent and treat illnesses. Unfortunately, the idea that exposure to nature can be restorative is almost invisible or nonexistent in healthcare.

The key to enjoying trails is smart hiking. Hiking should always be a social activity, never a solo one. Proper shoes, enough water and knowledge of the terrain are essential to safety and enjoyment.

Society doesn’t have to worship the sun for warmth anymore, but that doesn’t mean it can’t enjoy the sun’s benefits. Indoor tanning at your professional salon is a great way to take advantage of those benefits; however, moderate outdoor exercising offers additional fitness benefits.

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