Sunshine often gets a bad rap. And while overexposure to its rays is dangerous, so is too little.
Our bodies need vitamin D, and the most natural way to get this vital nutrient is by exposing bare skin to the sun. Experts agree that about 20 minutes of exposure a few times a week supplies the body with the vitamin D it needs to properly absorb calcium, fight colds, ward off depression and even to help keep cognitive abilities intact.
The body’s ability to perform these functions doesn’t lose importance as we age, yet most older adults don’t have enough vitamin D. Some is a simple function of aging – older, thinner skin has a harder time absorbing the vitamin from the sun. Older adults often are largely housebound, therefore limiting their access to the sun’s rays.
Caregivers should keep in mind that older adults can benefit from a little time out in the sun. For a few minutes several times a week, allow the sun to hit the person’s bare face, arms or legs. Of course, it’s important to avoid overexposure, which can lead to sunburn and eventually, skin cancer.
There are situations, of course, that don’t allow for frequent trips outside. Thankfully, vitamin D can be gleaned from other sources, including supplements and certain foods.
To get more vitamin D in your diet, be sure to include:
- Fatty fish, including tuna, mackerel, swordfish and salmon
- Foods fortified with vitamin D, such as dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, yogurt and cereals
- Beef liver
- Swiss cheese
- Egg yolks
If you’re not getting enough vitamin D, chances are good that you also aren’t getting enough calcium. The body can’t absorb this vital nutrient without vitamin D.
Weak bones aren’t the only result of too little vitamin D. Research by scientists at Rutgers University has shown that older adults with low levels of the nutrient have an increased risk of cognitive decline.
In short, to keep the body and the mind working properly, it’s a good idea to:
- Expose bare skin to the sun’s rays for about 20 minutes three times every week
- Eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin D
- Add a vitamin D supplement to your daily routine (with your doctor’s nod, of course)