Interest in vitamin D has surged recently for two reasons: so many people do not have enough in their bodies that vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a worldwide health problem, according to the Dana Foundation, and studies suggest that the nutrient can prevent or treat an array of chronic medical conditions.
Vitamin D plays many roles in regulating brain health, from aiding the development of the brain and nervous system to postponing decline toward the end of life, according to a growing body of research. Recent epidemiological studies report that when levels of vitamin D are too low it appears to raise people’s risk for fatal stroke, dementia, and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Between 20 and 80 percent of the population worldwide have insufficient vitamin D levels, and what this means for their brains and bodies is not yet clear. Why such a deficiency? Likely because we have hidden from the sun—the major source of vitamin D for most people. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and foods fortified with the nutrient often do not have enough of it to satisfy our daily requirements. Humans require 5–15 minutes of unprotected daily summer sun exposure (depending on skin type and proximity to the equator) to optimize vitamin D synthesis from the skin, according to the available evidence.
Various university research studies suggest that vitamin D may benefit early brain development and ongoing functioning while combating cognitive and mental impairment as we age. These and a number of other reasons are why healthcare professionals recommend that healthy patients optimize their body’s vitamin D production through prudent exposure to the sun during summer months, using vitamin D supplements and eating more foods rich in vitamin D, such as fish, in the winter.
Getting outside more often not only benefits us physically through exercise and fresh air, exposure to nature is good for mental health as well, acting as a mood-booster and stress-reliever. According to University of Chicago researchers, positive effects from nature includes reduction of specific psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and mood disorder. Access to nature has also been found to improve sleep and reduce stress, increase happiness, reduce negative emotions, promote positive social interactions and even help generate a sense of meaning to life.
A healthy diet that includes foods providing essential nutrients such as Vitamin D, combined with regular exercise outdoors will not only do a body good, it’ll improve your state-of-mind.