The sun is out, and spring is finally here in Montreal. This means we’ll start to see days with longer hours of sunlight, warmer weather, and plenty of people walking around with spring fever! Above all of this, it turns out that more sun exposure offers a surprising number of health benefits for seniors. Here are some of the reasons you or your elderly loved one should get outside and enjoy the sun in the coming months:
Avoiding Vitamin D Deficiency
We all know that vitamin D is important. However, in Montreal, where seniors spend a large portion of the year stuck inside sheltering themselves from the winter weather, they don’t get nearly as much of the sunshine vitamin as they should. This is unfortunate, as getting a healthy amount of vitamins D-1, D-2, and D-3 is crucial to elder care. Some of the benefits of proper vitamin D intake include:
- Maintaining healthy bones; getting out in the sun can help prevent the onset of bone breakdown and fragility. Osteomalacia and osteoporosis (the most common bone-related disease among seniors) are often caused by inadequate levels of vitamin D, which plays a key role in calcium absorption.
- Lower risk of influenza; in recent years, observational studies have been conducted and proven that increasing vitamin D levels (especially in those who are deficient) can significantly cut the risk of respiratory tract infections. This includes the seasonal flu!
- Reduced risk of diabetes; a recent study has confirmed a direct relation between adequate vitamin D intake and a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Since being physically active is a big component in preventing diabetes, seniors with reduced mobility have an increased risk of getting the disease.
- Cardiovascular health; while more trials are still needed to identify the role of vitamin D supplements and heart health, one thing has been proven with certainty: conditions such as coronary heart disease, myocardial dysfunction and heart failure have all been associated with low levels of vitamin D.
- Cancer prevention; a Harvard study analyzed more than 30,000 people over the course of 16 years, and found that, for both men and women, those with a high level of vitamin D had a 20% lower risk of many types of cancer.
Remember, however, that this all relates to natural vitamin D, not supplements. While you can get some of the vitamin through fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified milk, and some juices, the best source is from direct sunlight. Research shows that being out in the sun for just 30 minutes per day is enough to reap all the benefits of the sunshine vitamin.
Boosting Your Mood!
Recent scientific articles have suggested that sunlight exposure and the production of serotonin (also known as the “happy chemical“) may be directly linked. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that tends to occur during the winter months, when sunlight is sparse and most people spend less time outdoors. These symptoms often go away once spring arrives, and an increase in serotonin production is common during the warmer months. All this means that when it comes to improving your mood, simply getting out in the sun may be enough; if the sunlight doesn’t make you feel happier, then the singing birds, blossoming flowers, and fresh air certainly will!
Improved Sleep Quality
Seniors who have a difficult time falling or staying asleep at night can benefit from more sun exposure during the day. The circadian rhythm on which our bodies function is essentially our natural clock, and in order for it to be properly ‘set’, we must be exposed to sunlight in the day and darkness at night. Sun exposure informs our body when it’s daytime, increasing attentiveness and wakefulness. As an added benefit, getting more sunlight during the day causes a boost in night-time production of melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Studies have shown that increased sun exposure may help protect against certain degenerative brain disorders, including all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s believed that vitamin D deficiencies may play a large role in the onset of degenerative diseases, as well as overall lower cognitive functions. That’s why caregivers of the elderly need to make sure that the seniors they care for are getting an adequate amount of sunlight each day.
Too Much of a Good Thing
While sunlight definitely provides many health benefits to seniors, it’s important to remember the potential danger of excessive sun exposure: these include heat stroke, skin cancer, and burns. Protection from the sun’s direct rays is important, especially for those who are sensitive to sunlight. Good sunscreen, wide-brim hats, and sunglasses are all essential for the elderly to get the benefits of sunlight while minimizing the risk of sun damage.
Getting enough sunlight is just one of many aspects of senior care. If you or a loved one need help with caring for a senior in Montreal, Complete Care Coordination can help; don’t hesitate to contact us today for a free consultation.