Walking on Sunshine

Tips for staying happy and healthy during the winter months.

In the midst of the cold winter months, a burst of sunshine is a welcome sight. When most days are gray, it’s hard to remember that the sun is still there in the sky—it hardly pierces through the gray curtain of clouds that seems to seal in cold air. The apparent absence of sunlight can drive even the most chipper of people into a mental funk.

One reason why the winter months can be so hard is due to the inability of the body to attain and process vitamin D, which is responsible for keeping autoimmune diseases, seasonal affective disorder, poor bone health, and arthritis at bay. The sun is the body’s single most reliable source of vitamin D, and between the months of November and April, there are no ultra-violet B rays available north of Atlanta, Georgia. This causes vitamin D levels to drop drastically.

Vitamin D boosts the immune system, thus explaining why the common cold and influenza make a widespread appearance this time of year. Sunlight is also known to decrease stress and anxiety, not necessarily because of its affect on vitamin D levels, but because of its general mood-boosting properties; serotonin production increases in sunlight.

So how do you make sure you get enough sunlight in winter? Get  outside for at least 30 minutes a day even if you’re bundled up like an Arctic explorer. If 30 minutes isn’t an option due to a packed schedule, a light therapy lamp with 10,000 lux simulates daylight and tricks your mind into reaping the mental benefits of sunlight. If you’re feeling fine in your mind but can’t get rid of a cold, Vitamin D can be found in cod liver, fish oil, herring, oysters, salmon, halibut, soymilk, shrimp, milk, fortified cereals, mushrooms, and eggs. Northerners will want to explore a vitamin D supplement.

In the dead of winter, it may be hard to imagine the warm, summery days that will eventually return, but they will. In the meantime, load up on vitamin D, bundle up, and keep moving!