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I call sunshine the under-appreciated energy vitamin. In fact, it’s more than under-appreciated. In some circles, it’s downright undiscovered!

We avoid sunshine at every potential encounter, slathering SPF 60 all over our bodies even if we venture out for a bottle of milk. We act as if five minutes of sun exposure is going to condemn us to a lifetime of wrinkles—or worse, to melanoma.

We treat the sun as our mortal enemy. And we’re paying the price—in energy and in health. It’s time to rethink our relationship with this brightly burning star.

Your Own Solar Energy Transfusion
The sun has been providing energy for about five billion years (and scientists figure it’s got at least another five billion to go, just in case you were worried.) The sun’s energy drives the water cycle—rain and snow—and it drives the winds. It’s the source of our weather.

Remember photosynthesis, from high school biology class? In case you forgot, it means that plants get their energy from the sun.

Maybe you should, too.

“The sun gives you strength, lifts your spirits, and is a source of energy,” says my friend, Al Sears, M.D., CNS, author of Your Best Health Under the Sun. Like a growing body of health experts, Sears thinks we’ve become so sun phobic that we’re missing out on the myriad mood-boosting and energy-enhancing benefits the “sunshine vitamin” has to offer.

Part of the key to these benefits is vitamin D, but part of the benefits also come from the naturally energizing light and its ability to help counter the depression and mood changes that are so common when daylight is shorter or sun exposure is minimal.

Prescription: 10 Minutes of Sun Every Day
So now that we’ve established (I hope) that some sunlight will boost your energy, the question on everybody’s lips is this: How much?

First of all, let me be perfectly clear: I am not advocating a return to the days of basking in the sun drenched in baby oil (and neither are any of the vitamin D researchers.) There’s no doubt that chronic, excessive exposure to sunlight can increase the risk of basal or squamous cell cancer (non-melanoma skin cancers that are rarely fatal). We all know long periods of exposure to the harsh sun, particularly during the noonday hours and especially without sun protection, is not a smart thing to do. We don’t want our skin to age. We don’t want all those wrinkles. And we certainly don’t want to get skin cancer.

So I’m not saying sun protection isn’t important. What I am saying is we’ve gone way overboard. We’ve become sun phobic—and actually increasing some of the health risks that come when your body doesn’t get enough sun and you don’t make enough vitamin D.

And by the way, it’s virtually impossible to get enough vitamin D from your diet alone. Very few foods contain vitamin D—mostly oily fish like salmon (wild, not farm-raised) and mackerel, which you’d have to eat three to five times a week to get your vitamin D requirement. Cod liver oil is another good source, but let’s face it, most people aren’t going to run out and buy cod liver oil, let alone start taking it every day!

So what do we do about it? Simple. We get sensible sunlight. All it takes is 5–10 minutes two to three times a week.

Think about it—we evolved in sunlight, as Dr. Michael Holick points out. We were bathed in sunlight, we feel better in sunlight. And sunlight provides us with a gift, which is vitamin D. We can use the sun’s power to generate activated vitamin D in our bodies, which can help protect against various kinds of cancer and other diseases. We’re also finding it may help regulate insulin which is a huge factor in diabetes and obesity. And it can definitely help with mood and energy.

Here’s another thing to think about: Ever notice how you have a lot of energy-draining muscle aches and pains during the winter? And how a lot of people attribute that to the cold weather? Well vitamin D is very important to muscle function. People who are vitamin D deficient are prone to muscle weakness, are more likely to fall, and more likely to experience bone fractures.

So how much sun are we talking about, what could you do right now realistically to harness the power of the sun to improve your life, your health, and your well-being? Well, it depends a lot on the pigment of your skin and where you live. Holick says that for most Caucasians who live where there is sunlight, if you just expose about 10 percent of your body a couple times a week that’s enough to get your vitamin D requirement. (Dark-skinned people or people who live in the northern latitudes need more.) For most people not in the northern latitudes, that prescription translates to about 5–10 minutes a few times a week. (After that, put on the sunscreen and relax!)

The bottom line: Don’t be sun phobic.

The sun offers life. It offers the ability to make a life enhancing vitamin that most people are deficient in, and it offers the ability to regulate feel-good chemicals in the brain so your sense of well-being and happiness is improved, and so is your energy! .

Adapted from Jonny Bowden’s The 150 Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Energy.

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka "The Rogue Nutritionist") is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of nine books on health, healing, food and longevity including two best-sellers, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” and “Living Low Carb”. A frequent guest on television and radio, he has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS as an expert on nutrition, weight loss, and longevity. He is a past member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Men’s Health magazine, is the Nutrition Editor for Pilates Style, and is a regular contributor to AOL, Vanity Fair Online, Clean Eating Magazine, Better Nutrition, and Total Health Magazine Online.