What do you think of when I say the words “Sun Exposure”? Most people go into a panic using terms like melanoma and the like. Now skin cancer is a serious issue and is not to be taken lightly. Especially here in Australia where the prevalence is quite high due to our abundance of sun and fair skin (for many of us anyway). But along with the media pushing the message of limiting sun exposure (which Aussies remember Slip, Slop, Slap?), typical of Western culture, people have started to go too far in the opposite direction. I know people who won’t go out in the sun without lathering on sunscreen, wearing a long sleeve top and a hat. This can actually be worse, as I know some of these people have been diagnosed with dangerously low vitamin D levels.
The sun is actually our most reliable source of vitamin D with very little coming from our foods. Foods like eggs, cod liver oil and lard are some of the only dietary sources of Vitamin D.
So what does Vitamin D do? Recently I spoke about bone health, calcium and the importance of having strong bones for us as runners. But if you don’t have a good supply of vitamin D, any calcium you do have, will be useless as it is an important co- factor in the absorption of vitamin D. Have you ever heard of the disease Rickets? Generally found in children a few generations ago when they had a lack of sunlight and their bones (most commonly legs) would actually bow out.
How do we know if we are getting enough sunlight then? Well if you live in the southern regions of Australia like myself and Shaun, sunlight is minimal at the moment being Winter. So I would suggest, weather permitting, heading outside at every opportunity to get sun on as much of your body as you are willing to bare, without getting arrested! As runners we quite often are out there in our shorts and tee-shirts, so we tend to get more exposure than the average person. Unless like me and you do most of your runs early in the morning before the sun rises.
The summer is obviously a different story though. With the highest levels of UV rays being between the hours of 11 and 3. You don’t want to be baking in the sun for hours on end during these hours if you have anything but the darkest of skins. Even if you apply sunscreen, it is still no safeguard against skin cancer. Some experts believe sunscreen just allows people to get far more sun exposure than their skin is designed to get. So I usually choose to get my sun exposure outside these times when I am less likely to burn.
What you should look out for is a mild pink tone in the skin, not quite burnt, to get your vitamin D levels optimized. Another way, which works well in the cooler months, is an oral spray of vitamin D3 which you can get from most good health stores. It is a sublingual spray (under the tongue) and absorbed straight into your system. It is great for those who can’t get enough sun, tend to burn too easily or have very dark skin where they need lots of sun exposure (people of African heritage may fit this description).
To be honest, if you aren’t buying the D3 spray from Iherb.com, you are probably paying too much. A good friend of mine runs a health food store, and he even buys half his stuff from them! If you know of a cheaper supplier, let me know.
So don’t be afraid of the sun, it gives life to all living creatures, but don’t get burnt either. If this is not an option, optimize your levels with the D3 supplement and enjoy stronger bones, an improved immune system, and many other benefits that come with good levels of vitamin D. Some even say high doses are beneficial with treating cancer patients. Whatever the benefits you are after, there is no reason to go without some sun and the highly important vitamin D.
P.S. Tanning beds are no substitute, they are to be avoided at all costs!