Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy.
Sunshine makes everyone happy. However, as we get older, we become better informed of the negative aspects of the sun—skin cancer, medication interactions, and cataracts.
No matter what your age, though, you need sunlight.
Who Needs Sunlight?
All people need sunlight. Without it, our bodies break down. Sunlight aids in maintaining mental and physical health. Here are some specific ways sunlight does this:
#1 Sunlight boosts vitamin D
Vitamin D becomes especially important as you get older, because people over the age of 50 have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. Older adults lose some ability to synthesize vitamin D and to activate vitamin D in the kidneys so it can be used in the body.
Your need for vitamin D increases as you get older. An adequate intake of vitamin D after age 70 is 600 international units (IU), according to the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies. For ages 50 to 70, the recommended intake is 400 IU; up to age 50, 200 IU is recommended.
Some drugs interfere with the absorption of vitamin D. They include:
- Aluminum- or magnesium-containing antacids
- Thiazide and similar diuretics
- Johns wort
- Stimulant laxatives
- Cholestyramine® and Colestipol®
- Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®)
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, fortifies your immune system and aids proper nerve function. Studies show that vitamin D supplements help prevent falls and fractures among older adults, although the dosage is disputed.
Vitamin D deficiency may be a contributing factor in “osteoporosis, muscle weakness, hip fractures, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and poor general health in seniors,” remarks Dr. Chis Iliades.
#2 Sunlight may lower the incidence of certain cancers
Scientists believe this may be a result of sunlight’s link to vitamin D, but they aren’t sure. What they do know is the incidence of lung, colon, and breast cancers declines in areas closer to the equator.
#3 Sunlight helps you sleep better
Sunlight affects the production of serotonin, a precursor to melatonin, which is key in regulating your body’s rhythms. Exposure to bright morning light can prevent insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder.
#4 Sunlight prevents autoimmune diseases
Researcher M. Nathaniel Mead noted that exposure to UVA and UVB radiation increases activity of T regulatory cells and stimulated cytokines, releases alpha melanocyte-stimulating hormone, and cytokines, all of which may prevent autoimmune diseases.
#5 Sunlight provides antioxidant effects
The alpha melanocyte-stimulating hormone released upon exposure to sunshine helps limit oxidative DNA damage resulting from ultraviolet rays and increases gene repair, reducing the risk of melanoma. In addition, its release may increase immunologic tolerance and reduce the risk of contact hypersensitivity.
#6 Sunlight helps psoriasis
Cytokines released in response to UVA and UVB exposure develop immunologic tolerance.
#7 Sunlight increases endorphin levels
Endorphins cause euphoria, appetite modulation, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response. With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress.
Are You a Caregiver?
If you’re a caregiver for your parent or an older adult, it’s important to consider the following:
- Sunlight may not be enough to provide adequate vitamin D production from November to February if you live in the northern part of the America, above a line drawn between Boston, Massachusetts, and the top of California
- To produce vitamin D, skin needs to be uncovered (no sunscreen either) to absorb the sun’s rays. Sitting inside next to a window is not effective..
- Older people who do not take vitamin D supplements are at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency even if they spend time in the sun.
- Women are at higher risk than men, and seniors with darker complexions are at a higher risk than their lighter-skinned peers for vitamin D deficiency.
Geriatrician Ronan Factor advises seniors to spend some time in the sun several times a week. There is no recommendation for how much time older adults should expose their skin to the sun’s rays, although younger people are advised to get about 10 minutes.
Consult your parent’s doctor to ensure they are not taking medication that increases their susceptibility to the sun’s rays. Their doctor can also give you an idea of how much time they should spend in the sun.
Avoid exposure during the danger times between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the summer.