Vitamin D

The role of vitamin D

Vitamin D plays an essential role in bone health. By improving the absorption of bone-building calcium from the intestine, vitamin D is important to the growth and maintenance of a strong skeleton. Vitamin D also helps to control calcium levels in the blood and helps to maintain muscle strength.

Vitamin D and sunshine

For most Australians, sunshine is the main source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) light emitted by the sun.

The amount of sun exposure required to produce adequate levels of vitamin D is relatively low. However, many Australians do not have adequate vitamin D levels, especially during winter. Required sun exposure times will vary based on season, location, area of skin exposed and skin type.

In summer, exposure is best at mid morning or mid afternoon (outside peak UV times). In winter, longer exposure times are needed, preferably around midday.

It is important to balance the need for sun exposure to produce adequate vitamin D, at the same time avoiding the risk of skin damage from too much exposure.

Download the information sheet Vitamin D and osteoporosis

Take time for a vitamin D break during winter

While too much sunlight exposure during the warmer months can increase a person’s risk of skin cancer, not enough time in the sun can result in low levels of vitamin D.

People need vitamin D for healthy bones and muscles and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis – a condition causing brittle bones.

During winter you can find yourself going to work and coming home in the dark. Taking time out of the working day to go outside for a break can also be hard to do when there are deadlines to meet and the weather is cold and frosty.

Here are some simple choices for a sun-safe Vitamin D Break during winter:

  1. Maximise your productivity in the office by taking a walk outside as research shows that people work best in 90-minute intervals, rather than continuously working without a break
  2. Make a long work call from a bench in the sun or ask colleagues to hold a walking meeting outdoors rather than in a meeting room
  3. Check ultraviolet (UV) levels for your local area every day using the SunSmart UV Alert online or download the free SunSmart app for iPhone, iPad and Android
  4. Use sun protection when UV levels are three and above
  5. Limit your sun exposure based on where you live:
    People in the Southern regions of NSW (e.g. Sydney, Batemans Bay and Wagga Wagga), should aim to get 30 minutes of sun exposure on their hands and forearms in the middle of the day, on most days of the week, as UV levels needed to make vitamin D drop below three during June and July
    People in Northern and far Western NSW (e.g. Cape Byron, Armidale, and Cobar), should aim to get 20 to 25 minutes of sun exposure on their hands and forearms in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon on most days of the week, as UV levels needed to make vitamin D remain three and above all year round.