Free Health: fresh air and sunshine

Janet Moje

It seems too simple.  After all, we breathe automatically and go out in the sun everyday. However, it is easy to take our air and sunshine for granted. The air quality resulting from all the wildfires we experienced this summer certainly showed us how important these two things really are. 

Fresh Air
The air we breathe supplies our bodies with oxygen, but it is also responsible for ridding our bodies of waste and toxic substances. It helps us keep a calm and clear mind. The more fully we use our lungs, the more efficient they are. Most people breathe shallowly, “thoracic breathing” using only the top third portion of their lungs. The body naturally breathes this way when we are in a state of stress and if we practice this breathing all the time it causes avoidable tension. Shallow breathing puts strain on our shoulders, chest and neck, which can cause headaches and neck pain. It can also cause more of a slump in our posture. “Diaghragmatic breathing” or breathing with our bellies does the opposite. It relaxes us, dispels tension, lowers blood pressure and reduces our heart rate.

There are various breathing techniques developed for different purposes. Yoga encourages calm, professional sports improves performance, child birth reduces pain, professional singing increases lung capacity, and meditation produces clear focus -- each having different names for these breathing techniques. No matter what you call it or why you perform it, bottom line is mindful breathing is good for your health.

Sunshine
Without vitamin D we cannot adequately absorb calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Luckily, sunshine reacts with the natural oils on our skin to produce vitamin D. This vitamin is fat soluble and is stored in the liver, so stock up on this free source while you can before winter sets in. You can also supplement your diet with Vitamin D rich foods such as liver, fatty fish, mushrooms and eggs.

Adequate Vitamin D can be obtained from exposure to ultraviolet light for 10 minutes a day when the sun is high in the sky, between 10 am and 2 pm is best. This depends on the darkness of your skin and your age, since the older you are, or the darker you are, the less vitamin D you produce and the longer exposure you will need. If your shadow is bigger than you, the light is too low. In our area, March to October is sufficient for vitamin D production, but the sun is too low in the sky during the winter months. 

Free Health: fresh air and sunshine

What to do
Find a peaceful, sunny place outdoors, where there is no traffic exhaust or other sources of pollution. Our backyards or park areas are perfect. Remove as much clothing as the elements (and law) will allow to expose your skin to the sun. Breathe slowly and deeply. Using your diaphragm, raise your arms above your head, expand your belly as you inhale through your nose until you can’t take anymore air in. Hold it for a few seconds then exhale slowly through your mouth, lowering your arms and contracting your belly tightly as you empty your lungs completely. Again, hold your lungs empty for a few seconds then repeat the process. Aim for five minutes in total or until you feel calm and energized. Remain in the sun for another five minutes to maximize your vitamin D production. Do not shower directly after sun exposure, as the skin needs time to reabsorb the vitamin D.