You are my sunshine – staying well in winter

UC Health Centre nurse Wendy Risdon says the sun’s rays are free and essential for life – and there is research which supports the need for some sun exposure in winter.

You would be excused for thinking all you need to do to stay well this winter is have a flu vaccination. How about the virtues of good old soap and water when handwashing and a daily dose of sunshine?

The sun’s rays are free and essential for life. It is the sun on bare skin that creates vitamin D which strengthens the immune system and is essential for the regulation of hundreds of body processes. It is hard to obtain enough vitamin D from dietary sources alone though there is some in fatty fish, egg yolk, organ meats or cod liver oil, the best utilised source is the sun.

This is a reason to leave your office or work place at lunch time because in winter UVB rays aren’t strong enough in the early morning or late afternoon to trigger vitamin D production, only at midday or when the sun is at least 30 degrees above the horizon. This happens to be the exact time some experts tell us to stay out of the sun!


You need 10-30 minutes of sun exposure, depending on skin pigmentation, in the middle of the day. This can improve mood, help depression and actually decrease cancer risk. It can also help with fat loss, building muscle and blood sugar control.

So where is my evidence? A recent review, led by the Queen Mary University of London, looked at 11,321 people across 25 separate trials in order to see if there was any definitive correlations present in this regard. These studies looked at a range of infections, from common cold strains to full-blown influenza.

They came to the conclusion that, for every 33 people regularly taking Vitamin D supplements as part of a balanced diet, one of them would not experience a cold or flu infection during the year. This would make it more effective than the flu vaccination.

Overall, extended to the entire UK, this works out to be three million people without the sniffles. This would not just be great for their own health, but would be a huge boost to the British economy in terms of work hours not lost to sickness. I am sure we could extrapolate this out to have a similar impact in New Zealand.

If you can get outside regularly around midday, in winter and spring you don’t need a Vitamin D supplement, but if you are office or library bound, day after day, you are likely to be low in Vitamin D and susceptible to colds and flu’s and other respiratory illnesses.

So my winter wellness tip is to take regular small doses of sunshine and watch your health improve.

Wendy Risdon