Fun in the sun

. June 26, 2013.

Sunshine, fresh air, picnics, campfires, and swimming.  They’re not just fun summertime activities, but they could be good for youngsters’ health too, says Dr. David Rakel, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin and medical director of UW’s Health Integrative Medicine program. 

“A theory called ‘hygiene’ suggests we are staying too clean by remaining indoors with our hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap, not training our immune systems to become fully developed,” says Dr. Rakel.  “There’s some promising research that shows kids who grow up playing in dirt and on farms actually have less asthma and allergic rashes of the skin.  In essence, kids who are exposed to bacteria and elements in nature train their immune systems to be better balanced, so in the long run, they may remain healthier.” 

Anytime of year, it’s good to get outside, but Dr. Rakel stresses that it’s time in the summer sun, in moderation, that lends the most benefits.  “It could be the longer days.  You get to appreciate a sense of community.  There are more picnics, more triathlons, and more family reunions.  People are leaving their homes and making social connections, which are important to good health.”

Even adults can use a boost from a sunny day.  Dr. Rakel has found that nature can positively affect mood, and that many of his patients has less of a need of anti-depressants in the summer months. 

Katherine Bonus, founder of the mindfulness program at the UW Health Integrative Medicine program agrees with Dr. Rakel and offered this recommendation, “Step outside several times a day, feel the sun and wind on your skin, notice the sights and sounds of summer, and enjoy those moments.” 

Dr. Tamirisa is a board-certified cardiologist and member of ProMedica Physician Group.