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(Winter sun + exercise) - sun protection = Vitamin D!

Thursday 17 July, 2014 by Peta Dyke

This is my first Australian winter in a long time and it's a lot colder than I expected. I've been living in the UK for the past 12 years – jackets, beanies, scarves and gloves are all a must over there during winter (and let's be honest, sometimes during summer).

Maybe I had rose-tinted glasses on, but my memory of the Australian winter was of sunny blue skies and 18 degree days.

I never expected to have to rug up so much and, until recently, it had never occurred to me how this might be affecting my level of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is a hormone that controls calcium levels in the body. We need it for healthy bones and muscles and overall general health.

New research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that only one in two (49%) Victorian adults have a sufficient level of vitamin D in winter, compared to 80% in summer. That means that more than half of all adults living in Victoria experience a drop in vitamin D during winter. I was surprised that this seasonal variation is common for people living across the southern parts of Australia.

It makes sense when you think about it. UV levels tend to drop below 3 in winter and it's hard to get motivated to go outside when it's cold, wet and windy. I tend to stay indoors, slip on my comfy trackies, my Uggs and lie in front of the TV.

So it's got me thinking about what I can do to help keep my vitamin D at a healthy level* during winter.

To boost our vitamin D level in winter, SunSmart recommends we:

  1. Put away the sunscreen and sun hat
  2. Aim for daily sun exposure for at least 20 mins at midday
  3. Get active – physical activity helps vitamin D production.

As someone who works indoors three days a week, it can be hard to pull myself away from the computer and go for a walk at lunchtime. There's always a reason not to go: I'm too busy, it's too cold or I simply can't be bothered.

To help motivate myself on those cold days, I've stuck an old picture of someone with rickets up alongside my computer. I know it's a bit extreme! But every time I catch a glimpse of it, it reminds me to get up off my backside and head outdoors with my sleeves rolled up – even if it's only for 20 minutes during my lunch break. On weekends, and those days I don't work, it's a bit simpler: I have a dog to walk and children to exercise, so I get my daily dose of sunshine that way.

To find out if you're getting enough sun for vitamin D, check out SunSmart's vitamin D tracker tool on the free SunSmart app (available for smartphones and tablets, as well as online).

If you're concerned about your vitamin D level, speak to your GP.

For more information visit sunsmart.com.au

*A vitamin D level of 50nmol/L or above is considered to be a good level.

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