The summer sun is back and it is here to stay (for the next few months anyway). Out we come from our winter hibernation to enjoy the sun and soak up some Vitamin D.
Vitaman D is extremely important. Adults that don’t get enough vitamin D can develop bone weakness and increased risk of fracture. Epidemiologic evidence indicates an association between low levels of vitamin D and diseases associated with aging such as cognitive decline, depression, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Unfortunately as people age they lose some of their ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D also needs to be activated in the kidney before it can be used by the body and this function also decreases with age. Mobility also plays a part in peoples ability to get outside in the sun. Researchers have suggested that it takes up to 30 minutes of sun exposure twice a week to make a sufficient amount of vitamin D from sunlight.
Sensible sun exposure
For most people, it’s easy to get enough vitamin D in New Zealand – our bodies produce it whenever we get the sun on our skin. However, because of the risks of sunburn and skin cancer, we need to be careful how much sun we get.
Exposing your skin to the sun increases your risks of skin cancer. It’s important that you balance the risks. You should never get sunburnt.
In summer, sun protection is recommended (shade, clothing coverage and a hat that shades the face and neck, sunscreen and sunglasses), especially between 10am and 4pm. A daily walk or some other form of outdoor physical activity in the early morning or late afternoon is ideal.
How else can you get Vitamin D?
Some foods contain small amounts of vitamin D. You can get it naturally from:
- oily fish (eg, salmon, tuna, sardines, eel and warehou)
- milk and milk products
Some foods may also have vitamin D added. These include:
- margarine and fat spreads
- some reduced-fat dairy products (eg, milk, dried milk and yogurt)
- plant-based dairy substitutes (eg, soy drinks)
- liquid meal replacements.
Check the ingredients lists on these foods to see if extra vitamin D has been added.
Different people need different amounts of sun exposure to make enough vitamin D. How much sun you should get depends on:
- your skin colour
- your age, weight and mobility
- risk of skin cancer
- how much vitamin D you get from your food
- if you are taking medications – some medications are photosensitising
- where you are in New Zealand, season, and time of day
- certain medical conditions.
Talk to your GP if you have questions about safe sun exposure or if you think you may not be getting enough vitamin D.