After months of little sun and indecisive temperatures, it can be hard to properly protect ourselves from the sun’s rays right away. There are many benefits to getting outdoors for playtime this time of year, but one of the important health reasons is for vitamin D production. Safe sun exposure, from five to 30 minutes, twice a week, in direct sun on exposed skin without sunscreen allows light-skinned persons to manufacture ample vitamin D. This amount of sun may seem appropriate for a homebody or full-time worker, but for many children, sun exposure becomes dangerous in the summer.

Depending on who you are and how you live, you may need more sunlight, or less. More than 75% of Americans may have low vitamin D levels, and our health is at risk. Vitamin D is actually a hormone, affecting many genes and organs in the body. Vitamin D plays an important role in immunity, keeping the body’s defense system strong throughout life.

Science has long supported vitamin D’s role in forming strong bones and keeping those bones sturdy through life. In the past, humans have been able to make ample vitamin D in their skin in the presence of sunlight. Because we store vitamin D in our bodies, there was enough for good health, even when skies were cloudy. Today many factors prevent us from making enough vitamin D, including indoor living, shade of tall buildings, less outdoor play and work, etc. Vitamin D is trapped in body fat and is unavailable for use by the body. Consider sun safety, while sunscreen provides important protection against harmful rays, it blocks the body’s ability to make vitamin D. For those spending very little time outdoors, sunscreen may not be necessary. Limited direct sun exposure – even a few minutes twice a week – can boost vitamin D levels. Then apply sunscreen to assure safety in the sun. Winter sunlight (from late October through February in Kansas) is too indirect to make vitamin D for those in middle to northern United States. Ultraviolet exposure is strongest near the equator.

This is a special time of year when children and adults need to be outdoors to play, work or relax. Being in nature is good for our mental health, the sunshine helps our bodies produce vitamin D and it creates an opportunity for uninterrupted family time. This season in an opportunity to create, explore and make memories. Seize the day and do yourself some good by getting outside, but be wise about sun exposure. Plan ahead with sun protected clothing, hats, or sunscreen. For questions on this topic or others, visit the K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County office at 613 Holiday Plaza in Lansing, call at 913-364-5700 or email me at chelsim@ksu.edu

Chelsi Myer is a family and consumer sciences agent for K-State Research and Extension – Leavenworth County.