June 24, 2021

Why Seniors May Benefit From Morning Walks

Written by: Maki Palad, M.D.
Reviewed by: Mubashar Rehman, PHD

Introduction 

We all know that sunlight is an essential part of our life. In fact, sunlight and metabolism go hand in hand. We are often too scared to go out in the sun because we are told of its risk for cancer, sunburn, etc. Just as much as our plants enjoy the sun, we also need that bit of sunlight! Although there is widespread knowledge of the health risks that too much sun exposure can bring, we should also be aware of its benefits. Spending some time in the sun is not as bad as it seems. The elderly population often has less exposure to sunlight compared to the younger ones. Nowadays, you don’t really see a lot of old people walking as their exercise routine and in this article, we list down the reasons why seniors should still consider going for morning walks! 

Getting that bit of sunshine means stronger bones


Our body’s vitamin D reservoir is met from diet and the skin. However, aging decreases the production of 1,24-hydroxyvitamin D (1,25[OH]D; calcitriol), the active form of vitamin D. It also affects calcium absorption earlier than the decrease in the calcitriol production. This leads to an increased risk of nutritional deficiency in the elderly. The best-known benefit of sunlight is its ability to boost the body’s vitamin D supply. In one study, sunlight exposure increased serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) levels by 10ng/mL in the months of April through September; and the required normal 25[OH]D level in our bodies is >20 ng/mL [1]. Without the significant availability of vitamin D in the body, there will be poor bone mineralization resulting in osteoporosis or osteomalacia in the elderly. 


It lowers your blood pressure and prevents heart disease


The human skin is a storage of many substances, including nitric oxide. When exposed to sunlight, this hormone is delivered to the body's blood vessels and promotes vasodilation, hence lowering blood pressure and offering cardiovascular protection [2]. Regular UV exposure or small doses of sunshine may be beneficial in reducing the burden of cardiovascular diseases, especially in the elderly, who are most affected by it. 


The sun helps to keep you happy! 


Sun exposure may play a role in the improvement of mood through the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that regulates mood, feeling of well-being, and happiness. Although several other mechanisms are involved in the production of serotonin, one possibility is through sunlight exposure. One study showed that participants exposed to light evidenced higher serum serotonin than the controls of the experiment. The authors attributed this observation to the role of skin in serotonin production [3]


It boosts your immunity and helps fight infection

There is growing evidence indicating the role of vitamin D in regulating the immune system and affect the response to infections, particularly of the respiratory tract. There are two main mechanisms by which this is obtained: [1] Immune cells and physical barriers, including the skin and mucous membranes that make up the innate immune system, are believed to be enhanced by vitamin D supplementation, and [2] Systemic and local inflammatory responses, as well as cytokine response by the adaptive immune system, are regulated by vitamin D [4]. Boosting the immune system is a very important strategy in fighting against common pathogens. There are even studies on the role of vitamin D supplementation in the fight against the pandemic of COVID-19 [5]


Take Home Message

Sun exposure is beneficial in maintaining good health and well-being, especially for the aging population. With the burden of disease increasing in the elder population and the age-related decline of normal health functioning, maintaining a balanced lifestyle and nutrition provides many benefits. A few bouts of sunshine helps to maintain strong bones, lower blood pressure, prevent cardiovascular diseases, improve overall mood, and boost your immune system, amongst other things. According to the World Health Organization [6], 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure of the hands, face, and arms two to three times a week during the summer is enough to keep your vitamin D levels high. Those who live closer to the equator where UV levels are higher only need shorter periods. Reaping the health benefits of sunlight is just as important as protecting yourself from too much sun. We must take advantage of its abundance! Who knew stepping out of the house for a few minutes can already give you a health boost. Go on! Take that morning walk! 

References:

  1. Gallagher JC. Vitamin D and aging. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2013;42(2):319-332. doi:10.1016/j.ecl.2013.02.004
  2. Straughan JL. Sunshine and the cardiovascular benefits - a dose of sunshine!.Cardiovasc J Afr. 2010;21(3):168-170.
  3. Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Sunshine, serotonin, and skin: a partial explanation for seasonal patterns in psychopathology?.Innov Clin Neurosci. 2013;10(7-8):20-24.
  4. Gruber-Bzura BM. Vitamin D and Influenza-Prevention or Therapy?.Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(8):2419. Published 2018 Aug 16. doi:10.3390/ijms19082419
  5. Shah Alam M, Czajkowsky DM, Aminul Islam M, Ataur Rahman M. The role of vitamin D in reducing SARS-CoV-2 infection: An update [published online ahead of print, 2021 Apr 17]. Int Immunopharmacol. 2021;97:107686. doi:10.1016/j.intimp.2021.107686
  6. Radiation: The known health effects of ultraviolet radiation https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/radiation-the-known-health-effects-of-ultraviolet-radiation

 

Article written by Maki Palad, M.D.
Maki is a medical doctor from Manila, Philippines.She also majored in Biology prior to pursuing a medical career. When she is not working, she does freelance writing for health blogs and websites. She also does volunteer work for telehealth consultations and onsite charity clinics. During her free time, she likes to spend it at home reading, binge-watching her favorite shows and working out.

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