The warmth of the sun on your skin can certainly feel good. And it can actually do your body good too—if you practice smart sun exposure. Make no mistake: Too much time in the sun can cause major skin damage that dramatically accelerates the aging and inflammatory process (think lots of wrinkles, age spots, skin redness, and creases) and can ultimately cause skin cancer. But a limited amount of sun exposure can help you boost your body’s levels of vitamin D3, a nutrient crucial to bone health, cardiovascular health, and immune health.
Vitamin D is made in the skin when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Actually, it’s not so much a vitamin that emerges from this chemical reaction but a hormone-like substance that’s central to the development, growth, and maintenance of a healthy body. Vitamin D plays a major role in maintaining bone density and strength by aiding in the absorption of calcium. It also helps maintain healthy blood pressure and normal heart muscle function and supports the immune system by increasing the activity of natural killer cells and T cells. In fact, having low vitamin D3 levels may increase your breast cancer risk by up to 70%.
How should you get your vitamin D? To keep your levels of this critical nutrient high for total-body health, regularly eat foods high in vitamin D, such as fortified milk and milk products, some cereals, orange juice, oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and cod), shrimp, and eggs. Also take a vitamin D3 supplement of up to 2,000 IU daily. Finally, consider spending about 12 minutes each day in the sun with 50% of your body exposed without sunscreen. This little bit of sunlight can go a long way toward keeping your vitamin D stores up without bringing your skin health down. And make sure to have your vitamin D3 levels tested by your physician at least once per year to ensure they are optimal.