Aslan has roared his mighty roar and the frost of winter is finally melting into spring. With the sun shining and weather immaculate, seniors are likely looking to get back to their favorite outdoor activities. And the active residents at Autumn View Gardens are certainly no exception.
Getting out after being locked in for so long and walking, gardening or doing whatever you like to do outside is great for your mental and physical health. And getting some sun is also healthy, but as with all things, it needs to be in moderation.
Here’s a quick guide to the sun and what seniors should know before they get back to it.
You can pretty much only get vitamin D two ways: ingesting it, either in food or as a supplement, or from the sun. This vitamin is very important to your health as it's integral to the process of calcium absorption, which is of course important for bone strength among other bodily functions.
As with most things health related, you need to get vitamin D in the proper amounts. Too little will likely cause a calcium deficit, and too much can lead to issues like hypercalcemia, a high level of calcium in the blood. Unless you have a health condition that requires you take more or less vitamin D, doctors recommend following the daily recommended allowance guidelines. The allowance for seniors over 70 is about 800 IU.
Given the importance of vitamin D intake, you’re probably wondering about how you get this vitamin. Is sunlight better or are supplements the best source?
Short answer: Vitamin D is vitamin D. Your body produces the vitamin when exposed to sunlight, and chemically, it is exactly the same and is used exactly the same by your body as what you get from food or supplements.
That being said, there are reasons that one option might be better or worse for you. If you are sensitive to sunlight or simply can’t get outside enough, supplements may be a good option for you. But if your lifestyle has you getting lots of sun, supplements are likely not a good idea because you could get too much of the vitamin in total. It’s also probably worth mentioning that it’s a lot easier to get too much of the vitamin if you take supplements versus getting sun, especially when you consider the fact that many foods are enriched with vitamin D already.
Everything in life has a good side and a bad side, and the sun is a perfect example of that. It supports all life on Earth, and no one can go without it. But it also creates very serious dangers that need to be respected.
The biggest and likely most talked about problem is skin cancer. Sunlight contains UV light that can cause damage to the skin that leads to skin cancer. This is a problem for people of any age, and is definitely something to take seriously as a senior.
There are also more immediate short term effects that seniors should be very wary of. Likely, the most dangerous is heat stroke and other heat-related health problems. The heat can be a huge strain on your body and, if not addressed, can lead to very severe consequences. Luckily, both the short and long-term danger can be avoided fairly easily so you can enjoy the sun without worry.
The keys to safe fun in the sun are protection and moderation. The first line of defense is your clothing. Most clothing will block a good portion of harmful UV rays, but more sheer clothing will not. A good way to test the protection level of your clothes is to hold the fabric up to a light. If light shows through, then sunlight will reach your skin and you aren’t fully protected. You may also consider investing in UV protective clothing, which provides even more protection.
However, it likely won't be practical for you to cover every inch of your body with fabric. This is where sunscreen comes in. You should probably wear sunscreen anytime you’re going to be exposed to sunlight.
The second key—moderation—can be achieved a few ways. The simplest is to just plan to be in the sun for a set period of time. You can keep track of this with an alarm on your phone or watch to make certain you don’t lose track of time while having fun.
Being outside for a short time isn’t necessarily always reasonable though. Some activities require you to be outside longer and it’s just not very fun to have to call it quits early. One way to stay out longer while maintaining moderation is to make use of shade. You’re still exposed to sunlight in the shade, but it is less direct.
Before you head outside or make any large change to your lifestyle, it’s always best to consult a medical professional. Asking if you need to take any special precautions can help you make sure you’re doing what's best for your individual health. You can also ask the Autumn View Gardens staff if you have any concerns or needs regarding sun exposure during outdoor activities.