Living in our sunburnt country offers only minimal protection from vitamin D deficiency with 35% of males and 58% of females in Australia at least mildly deficient in vitamin D, according to a new Australian study.
So, with the colder months approaching and the sun less intense, experts suggest now is the time to start soaking up some UV rays to maximise vitamin D levels and promote bone density, especially if you live in the cooler southern parts of Australia.
According to Craig Sinclair, Chair of Cancer Council Australia Public Health Committee, most of us need about two to three hours of midday winter sun exposure to the face, arms and hands spread over each week.
“Sun protection is not required unless you are near highly reflective surfaces such as snow, outside for extended periods or when the UV [ index levels] reaches three and above,” he said.
However, sun exposure alone may not be a sufficient source of vitamin D, he warned. “For some sections of the population, such as people with naturally very dark skin, additional supplements may be needed. Similarly, those who receive little or no sun exposure over a typical week should visit their GP where their levels can be tested with a simple blood test and again, low levels can be treated with supplements.”
Top tips for getting the balance right:
- If the UV is below three, sun protection is not required. At these times, make midday sun exposure a priority and roll up those sleeves – the more skin you have exposed to the sun, the more vitamin D you’ll make. Keep yourself warm by walking fast or jogging. The study showed that low vitamin D was more common among people who didn’t meet the current physical activity guidelines.
- Be extra cautious if you live in the northern parts of Australia where the UV index levels are higher; incidental sun exposure during winter is probably enough
- People with naturally very dark skin may need three to six times the amount of sun exposure compared to those with fair to olive skin
- Wearing sunscreen from September to April will not put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency
- While the sun is the best source of vitamin D, you can get small amounts of vitamin D in foods like fish and eggs
- Cancer Council Australia recommends tracking your sun exposure for vitamin D using the free SunSmart app or online at sunsmart.com.au.