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Summer Sun for Winter Blues

Basking in the sun for depression?

The Summer-Winter Connection continued...

The critical link seems to be the relationship between summer light and winter levels of vitamin D. Light stimulates the production of cholecalciferol, which the body eventually transforms into vitamin D. The vitamin then helps the body maintain higher levels of serotonin during the winter.

Partonen's team has found that blood levels of cholecalciferol naturally peak in the fall months. So getting more exposure to sunlight during the summer may help you build up a store of cholecalciferol that lasts through the fall. All this cholecalciferol apparently spurs your body to produce more vitamin D during the darker winter months, which leads to higher serotonin levels.

Partonen contends that the amount of serotonin you have in the winter is determined by your exposure to light the previous summer -- and that soaking up more sunlight in the summer will increase your chances of preventing or reducing depression during the winter.

What You Can Do

Next winter doesn't have to be all gloom. It depends on what you do this summer. While simply slathering on the sunscreen and heading outdoors may be fine, try the following strategies to take best advantage of the summer sun:

  • Dose up: Get up and out early to enjoy the added hours of morning sunlight. These are also the hours in which the risk of sunburn is lowest. (Avoid dozing during the midday sun.)
  • Ritual: Practice some form of ritual, meditation, or exercise outdoors for at least 20 minutes each morning. One practice is to face the sun and imagine you are inhaling its light with each in-breath, and that the light is being absorbed throughout your body.
  • Sun breaks: During your workday, spend coffee breaks or lunch breaks outdoors to increase your exposure each day.
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