The Importance of Sunshine: How vitamin D, even in the winter, is vital to our wellbeing.

If you’re anything like me, this time of year makes you want to stay inside and curl up with a blanket and a cup of tea to stay warm and out of the elements.  However, staying inside for prolonged periods of time, even if you’re active, can have negative effects on your health.  According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, people need exposure to sunlight everyday in order to stay healthy.

Sunlight provides us with vitamin D, an essential nutrient that increases the absorption of calcium in the blood, making our bones stronger.  If someone has a prolonged vitamin D deficiency, they could develop osteoporosis as their bones aren’t absorbing enough calcium and therefore beginning to wear away in certain areas.

Aside from maintaining bone strength, vitamin D also prevents infections such as influenza, bronchitis, tuberculosis and more.  It may also prevent some forms of cancer.

It’s no surprise then as to why influenza and bronchitis are more prevalent in the winter than they are in the spring or summer; because it’s cold, people are less likely to go outside in the sun, and less sun means less vitamin D.

Though winter in Pennsylvania is no tropical paradise, studies show that even 10 to 15 minutes of being outdoors everyday can have numerous health benefits related to vitamin D.  That’s about the length of a short walk around campus!

Aside from physical health benefits, getting outside also has mental health benefits.  Staying inside all day with artificial lighting can readjust your melatonin levels.  Melatonin is a hormone that works alongside light to affect our sleep cycle.  Indoor lights are much dimmer than sunlight and can be controlled so that they’re turned on or off at any hour of the day.  The dimness of the lights makes it harder for your body to distinguish between day and night, and if the lights are kept on well into the night, your melatonin levels will adjust to fit that schedule and routine instead of the natural sunrise and sunset.

So by increasing the time you spend outside, not only will your bones be stronger and your body be more prepared against illnesses, but you will be more likely to have a regularized melatonin schedule that can help you sleep better and more routinely, increasing your overall energy and mood as well as combating Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Now go and bundle up, sled, skate, take a walk and admire the beauty of the winter landscape with the knowledge that every minute spent outdoors this season is leading to a happier, healthier you!



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