Don’t forget to get your daily dose of sunshine

08/30/2014 2:31 PM

08/30/2014 2:31 PM

When John Denver sang “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,” he spotlighted full-spectrum light’s ability to influence mood and health. And a new study reinforces just how important it is to get your daily dose of sunshine. Nurses exposed to natural light had lower blood pressure, were more alert, had better interaction with colleagues, laughed more and had better moods when dealing with patients than those who never saw the light. Another study found that workers in windowless offices had more physical problems and worse sleep habits than their windowed colleagues.

One reason for the benefits may be that more sunlight means your body makes more vitamin D-3, but sunlight does more than trigger production of that essential vitamin. Light acts as a nutrient for metabolic processes, influencing your body clock, endocrine system, and pituitary and pineal glands. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 10 percent of you have no access to sunlight during your workday, and in the winter, 30 percent of you go in to work before sunrise and head home after dark. So, make sure to take an outdoor break – even for just 10 minutes – at least twice a day.

Also, get your blood tested to see if you’re vitamin-D-3 deficient. A recent study found that having low blood levels of vitamin D-3 may double your risk of dementia. We suggest that you take 2,000 IU of D-3 daily until you get the results of the blood test; then adjust your dose as your doc recommends. Chances are more outdoor time plus vitamin D-3 will boost your mood and your long-term health.

An aspirin a day keeps the doctor away

In 1550 B.C., Egyptian physicians may have said, “Take two myrtle leaves and call me in the morning.” An ancient papyrus scroll indicates that even back then, people used salicylate-rich plants to ease pain. Flash-forward 3,500 years: These days that plant-based ingredient has been refined into what we call aspirin, and it’s still making news.

A new metastudy found that a dose of 75 mg to 325 mg of aspirin daily, taken for 10 years between the ages of 50 and 65, bestows more benefits than harm – and the benefits are impressive. Looking at many studies, the researchers found that taking a daily aspirin reduced the number of cases of bowel cancer by 35 percent, esophageal and stomach cancers by 30 percent and prostate cancer by 10 percent. It also lowered the number of deaths from those various cancers between 35 percent and 50 percent. Bigger doses of aspirin didn’t offer more protection; it was the length of time (at least five, and optimally 10 years) that conferred the benefits. The downside: Taking aspirin daily ups the risk of digestive tract bleeds among 60-year-olds, although it’s still rare.

So, if you’re between 50 and 65, talk with your doc about taking aspirin daily, and ask if you should be screened for Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria associated with ulcers. If you’re infected, treating it before you start taking aspirin may avoid complications. And remember: Always drink half a glass of warm water before and after taking aspirin. That keeps tablets away from your stomach lining and helps them dissolve quickly.

Fish get an honorary degree

When we saw the headline “Fish Consumption Linked to College Education,” we thought something sounded, well, a little fishy. Let’s face it: It takes more than a couple of platefuls of holy mackerel to get into Notre Dame, or a cape full of cod to enter Harvard.

The “reel” story? A recent 10-year study from the University of Pittsburgh netted this information: Scanning the brains of 260 older folks, researchers discovered that those people who had a greater volume of gray matter in areas of the brain that handle memory (it was 4 percent larger) and cognition (it was 14 percent larger) were the same folks who ate broiled or baked fish at least once a week. Those brainiacs, it turns out, were also more likely to have a college degree than the folks who were fish-phobic.

The researchers suggest that folks who eat broiled or baked fish often adopt other healthy lifestyle habits, and all together they protect the brain from age-related slowdown and dementia. So if you want your first-grader to get into a good college, or you want to protect yourself from cognitive problems later on, put non-fried fish on your menu at least once a week (they do swim in schools). Make sure that everyone in your family gets at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily, and avoid added sugars and syrups, any grain that isn’t 100 percent whole, and trans and saturated fats. Plus, learn something new every day; then your brain won’t be the one that got away.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

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