For generations, mothers have said the key to good health is “a bit of fresh air.” Recent medical research gives some support to that claim.
“Vitamin D plays a vital role in bone health, and researchers are now discovering that vitamin D may play a role in many other areas of health also,” according to the Vitamin D Council.
While vitamin D pills are widely available, they are intended as supplements, not replacements.
“The most natural way to get vitamin D is by exposing your bare skin to sunlight,” according to the Vitamin D Council. “You don’t need to tan or burn your skin. … You only need to expose your skin for around half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink and begin to burn.”
Mary Wuebben, a physician’s assistant specializing in nutrition therapy in Sioux Falls, says the basic health benefits of being outside, such as the availability of Vitamin D and getting active, cause a rise in serotonin—most commonly known as the “happy” hormone.
“If you are exercising it will help your serotonin levels, but you still won’t be getting the benefit of the sunlight,” she said.
An article published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences in July 2014 suggested that decreased vitamin D exposure due to being cooped up in the winter months leads to decreased motivation and discontented moods. Known as seasonal affective disorder, this can manifest as physical ailments.
“Depression leads to loss of motivation, body aching, fatigue and lack of energy,” Wuebben said. “Vitamin D affects the immune system, and that can lead to attaining other illnesses.”
Vitamin D supplements can help combat seasonal affective disorder with specific dosing determined by a medical provider.
Pill-form “vitamin D intake should be doubled when we fall back in the fall and cut in half again when we spring forward into the warmer weather,” to accommodate for spending less time in the Dakota sun during winter months, according to Wuebben. í
Winter is not the only time when Vitamin D absorption becomes more difficult—the later “seasons” of life, too, can present obstacles.
“As we age, we tend to get less vitamin D as skin gets tougher and denser,” Wuebben said, adding that “it also has a harder time getting through fat cells.”