COLUMN: A dose of sunshine is good for your health

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Finally the sun is shining and we’re all able to start spending more time outdoors.

Sunlight is not only a mood booster but it’s also beneficial to our physical health as a vital vitamin – vitamin D – is mainly created via direct sunlight during summer.

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

It’s thought that around one in five people have low levels of vitamin D which can lead to bones becoming soft and weak causing pain and deformities.

So how long do you need to spend in the sun to create vitamin D?

Most people can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods with their forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen from late March to the end of September – especially from 11am to 3pm.

It’s not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D to meet the body’s requirements. This is because there are a number of factors that can affect how vitamin D is made, such as your skin colour or how much skin you have exposed.

But you should be careful not to burn in the sun, so take care to cover up, or protect your skin with sunscreen, before your skin starts to turn red or burn.

It’s worth noting that you can’t make vitamin D by sitting indoors next to a sunny window as the rays that are needed don’t travel through the glass.

Most people can make enough vitamin D from sunlight if they’re able to spend time outdoors in the summer, but latest health advice is that everyone over the age of one should consider a supplement, especially in winter.

There are some high risk groups that are advised to take a supplement year round. These are babies and young children, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, people over 65 years of age, people with darker skin tones and people who are housebound or spend little time outdoors.

If you’re unsure whether you need a supplement, contact your pharmacist, GP or look online at the NHS Choices webpages.

It’s also worth remembering that there are many other benefits to spending time outside. Taking notice of your environment can boost your mental health, you could arrange to meet a friend outdoors and be social, and just getting outside can mean that you’re moving more.

Gardening or walking for just ten minutes at a time can be good for your body and mind, and help you sleep better as well as boosting vitamin D.