Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Benefits of Sun

For today's post, I want to write about the benefits of sun. Before I get to that, however, I should probably touch upon the downside of sun.

There are real downsides to sun- mainly skin cancer. I take this seriously.

Back when I was a medical student, and not yet familiarized with death, one of the most traumatic experiences I had was when the young wife of one of my friends, Sabra, was diagnosed with melanoma. She was in her early 20s, and was a wonderful woman. Ever since then, I have been somewhat hypervigilant to the risk of skin cancer.

To that extent, I want to mention a non-profit that was dedicated to Sabra's honor, called Be Sun Sensible.

What I would like to discuss, though, is the upside to sun. I think at this point, my perception is that my patients are now more aware of the downside to sun exposure than they are to the upsides.

For example, I have a friend who wears a solar-powered watch. It only requires 7 minutes of sun exposure every 6 months to remain operational, but periodically it stops. That is a pretty vivid example of just how little sun exposure many of us get. As sympathetic as I am to the very real risks associated with excessive sun exposure, we also do need sun.

So, here are some of the benefits of sun:

1. Being active. In my opinion, by far the best reason to have sun exposure is because it gets you outside, and if you are outside, you are more likely to be active, and probably the single biggest thing that most people can do to improve there overall sense of health and well-being is to stay active.

2. Staying happy. One of the unfortunate effects of limited sun exposure is Seasonal Affective Disorder. Our mood is largely regulated by external cues, and one of the most potent of these cues is sun exposure. This is most obviously true in northern regions of the world, where they have very limited sun exposure in the winter months, and entire communities experience the malaise of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I suspect this is much more widespread than is generally appreciated. So 5 minutes of sun exposure daily will probably go a long way in improving your mood.

3. Bone health. One of the main ways the body produces Vitamin D is through sun exposure. This is especially important for females, who are more prone to diseases related to bone metabolism, specifically osteopenia and osteoporosis.

4. Decreasing musculoskeletal pain. One cause of generalized musculoskeletal pain is Vitamin D deficiency. It's something many physicians are not cognizant of, but if you actually check the Vitamin D levels of patients with diffuse pain throughout their muscles, Vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly common. And, as noted above, one of the best ways to increase Vitamin D levels is through sun exposure.

So, having listed some of the benefits of sun exposure above, what is an appropriate approach to staying sun smart and sun healthy. Here are some common sense guidelines:

1. Be active. I think this is by far the most important rule to follow. Try not to let climate deter you from staying active.

2. Don't burn. A significant part of the risk of sun exposure is from burning. So if you are in a situation that will require prolonged sun exposure (e.g., at the beach, a long bike ride, gardening, etc), where the appropriate sunscreens and sun-protective clothing to prevent sun burns.

3. Don't go without sun for prolonged periods. If it's been more than a week since you've seen daylight, that's probably an indication that you need some sun exposure. I am certainly guilty of this- the pressures of work and family sometimes keep us in buildings or cars for more than we may want. But if it's been more than a week, try to find some excuse to get outside for 5 minutes at lunch, just to make sure you get some sun exposure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Chimes - I have an idea for your next post. What are your thought on that "kinesio" tape that I've seen the Olympic beach volleyball players wearing, as well as Robby Ginepri on the tennis courts. Does it really do anything?