Longer days and shorter nights signal the beginning of summer. This time of year everyone is maximizing their time outside in order to get tan, but did you know that there are some amazing health and athletic benefits to getting sun exposure consistently? Despite what you’ve heard about sunshine related skin cancer and harmful ultraviolet radiation, there are real tangible benefits to both your athleticism and your health in getting sun exposure.
Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s produced in your skin in response to sunlight. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin in a family of compounds that include vitamins D-1, D-2, and D-3. Your body produces vitamin D naturally when it’s directly exposed to sunlight. You can also get it through certain foods and supplements to ensure adequate levels of the vitamin in your blood. However, the easiest way to acquire it is through direct skin contact with sunlight.
Though there are still some real dangers associated with relentless sun exposure, that shouldn’t dissuade you from walking outside every now and then to catch some sunlight. Countless interesting studies have been conducted on how sun exposure or lack thereof can affect human health. Here are some of the interesting findings from the Sunlight Research Institute:
Here are some of the many health benefits of regular sun exposure according to TheActiveTimes.com:
Our life is influenced by our orbit around the sun making sunshine important to our health and physical potential. Sunlight can help regulate our sleep cycle and promote deeper recovery. Another important benefit that comes with sensible sun exposure is vitamin D. Vitamin D helps strengthen your bones, which can prevent bone fractures and chronic muscle pain.
Pro sports teams are now wise to the athletic benefits of Vitamin D too. A 2015 study of the Pittsburgh Steelers published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that vitamin D levels were significantly lower in players with at least one bone fracture. Players who were released during the preseason due to injury or poor performance also had significantly lower vitamin D levels than those who made the team.
Another study conducted on the Chicago Blackhawks proved that consistent sun exposure strengthened fast-twitch muscle fibers, stopped inflammation, and reduced the chances of contracting a respiratory infection. Enette Larson-Meyer, an associate professor at the University of Wyoming who studied the Blackhawks notes, “We know lack of vitamin D can compromise athletic performance. The week before a fit event, you may want to get some sun.”
OPEX HQ Coach Sean McGovern explains that it depends on the shade of your skin. “Generally speaking, the paler you are, the less time you need to spend outside in the sun to get the suggested amount of Vitamin D. The darker you are, the more time you need to spend outside.”
Darker skin is a protective evolutionary adaptation response to excessive sunlight, while paler skin is an adaptation response to less light in the environment. This means two things, those with darker skin won’t burn as quickly in the sun, but require more time in the sun to produce optimum amounts of vitamin D. Conversely, those with paler skin will burn more quickly in the sun, but don’t need as much time in the sun to get the optimal level of vitamin D.
Reaching your performance goals requires an awareness of what takes place outside of the gym, as well as in it.
However, sun exposure should not just be before an athletic event; it should be a regular occurance. That way the person who seeks the sun will not only improve athletic performance, but will derive all of the additional health benefits of sun exposure.