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Warm, sunny days often bring a smile to our faces, but does the sun actually make you happy? Sunshine certainly has certain health benefits, like an increase in vitamin D (sun is the main source of this essential vitamin for those of us living in the UK). Discover why we feel happy from being in the sunshine, vitamin D benefits for health, and how you can get your fix.
Why is vitamin D important?
There are important benefits of vitamin D from the sun (or any other source). It is essential for healthy bones, muscles and teeth, as vitamin D helps the body absorb the calcium and phosphate from our diet. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to bones becoming soft and weak, which can cause bone deformities, rickets in children, or bone pain and tenderness in adults.
Sources of vitamin D: sun, food and supplements
There are four main ways we get vitamin D:
- Direct sunlight. When we’re outdoors in the summer sun, our body creates vitamin D from sunlight on our skin.
- Food. Vitamin D is naturally present in a small number of foods, including eggs, red meat, and oily fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines.
- Fortified food. Vitamin D is also commonly added to some non-dairy milk alternatives, fat spreads and breakfast cereals, and to all infant formula milk.
- Supplementation. Vitamin D is available as a dietary supplement. The Department of Health recommends a daily vitamin D supplement for:
- Babies (including those who have less than 500ml a day of infant formula).
- Children aged one to four years.
- People who aren’t often exposed to the sun (those who are housebound, or wear clothes that cover most of their skin).
- It is also recommended that everyone else consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (μg) of vitamin D, particularly in the winter.
How to safely get vitamin D from sunlight
Most people in the UK (who aren’t in those three categories) should be able to create enough vitamin D from sunlight from late March/early April to the end of September. The NHS recommends that, during this time of year, you spend short periods of time between 11am to 3pm each day with your forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen. Cover up and apply protection before the time it takes you to start turning red.
You need to be outside, as your body can’t make vitamin D if you're sitting indoors by a sunny window. That’s because UVB rays can’t get through the glass. There’s no risk of making too much vitamin D from sun exposure, but sun exposure carries other well-known risks, so how can you safely enjoy the benefits of vitamin D from the sun?
Whenever you plan to be out in the sun for long:
- Cover up with suitable clothing, a hat and wrap-around sunglasses.
- Seek shade (especially 11am to 3pm).
- Apply at least SPF15 sunscreen.
This is particularly important for children. Babies under six months should always be kept out of direct strong sunlight.
Winter sun and vitamin D
In the UK winter, there can be more of a low mood. So does the sun make you happy only in the summer? There is actually a marked difference in sunshine vitamin D benefits between the seasons. From October to March, sunlight in the UK doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation for our skin to be able to make vitamin D. That’s when food and supplements are our only source.
Sunshine in the summer is also warmer, which in turns means we can be outside more often, enjoying the benefits of fresh air. With more hours of sunlight we can also do more for longer, without getting the natural hibernation feeling that accompanies winter – so perhaps we do feel happier. Of course, we can also get seasonal allergies like hay fever in the summer, so it’s not all good news!
Keep a soft tissue, like Cushelle Pocket Pack Tissues with you if you suffer from hay fever. They’re gentle on skin while being strong enough to deal with all that sneezing.
Now you know more about the link between vitamin D, sun, health and happiness, you can make sure you’re getting enough throughout the year.