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BW Businessworld

Soak Up The Sun

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Summer’s here, and if ever you needed an excuse to walk into office in a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, then this is it. In fact, play your cards right and you may even get a doctor’s prescription for your Casual Friday dress code to be made de rigueur. Add to that a mandatory leisurely/brisk (depending on your nclination) walk post-lunch (and before 3 pm), and you could almost trick yourself into believing that you’re working out of Italy. 
Seems a bit too fantastical? Well, maybe it is stretching things a bit, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the most recent epidemic to hit the human race requires you to do just that — soak in the sun as much as you can, in a pair of shorts and a half-sleeved T-shirt. That’s it — the prevention AND the cure!
Vitamin D deficiency has become an epidemic over the past 3-4 years, with research pegging around 1 billion people worldwide as vitamin D deficient. According to Rajeev K. Sharma, senior consultant, orthopaedics, and joint replacement surgeon at Apollo Hospital in Delhi, most people in urban and rural India fall in the deficient bracket. This is surprising, especially since India is a land of abundant sunlight. But as is the case for most health-related problems, it’s our sedentary lifestyle that is to blame. 
Couple that with the very ‘humdrum’ symptoms of backaches and leg pain, bump-and-break fractures, a general feeling of tiredness, low energy levels, especially during the evenings (sound familiar?), and it’s easy to understand why most people don’t even realise they’re missing the ‘sunshine vitamin’. Take 29-year-old entrepreneur Aakanksha Kulkarni, for instance. She was working with an architecture firm for three years — putting in 13 to 15-hour days regularly and rather effortlessly — till eight months ago, when she realised that she could not even make it through the day without several naps. 
Kulkarni was asked to do a series of tests, all of which were inconclusive. Finally she got her vitamin D checked, “and my count was very low — under 10 ng/ml (the average is supposed to be 30-75 ng/ml)”. She was immediately given vitamin D injections and sachets for oral intake and had to spend at least an hour daily under the sun. Kulkarni is now the CEO of architecture and design firm Nack Studios, and enthusiastically runs several activity groups across Delhi.
Satish Koul, senior consultant, internal medicine at the Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurgaon, says the human body needs 1,000-1,200 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. For those with low counts, Koul prefers the granulose sachets, saying “they generally don’t cause toxicity and can be taken regularly once a week or month”. Since there are no natural/direct sources of vitamin D in any of the foods (although a high protein and calcium diet helps), the sun is imperative for activating the hormone that synthesises the vitamin — almost akin to flicking on a switch.
And this brings us back to the need for Casual Friday shorts and tees in our wardrobe, what with people generally preferring to stay indoors, and even when out, keeping 90 per cent of their bodies covered. “We need at least 25 per cent of our body exposed — especially the legs, arms, neck and face. Just the head and neck isn’t sufficient. And that too, without sunscreen,” says Sharma, who suggests taking a walk in your cotton shorts for around 30 minutes in the sun — ideally between 11 am and 3 pm, when the UV-B rays needed for vitamin D activation are the strongest. The fact that brown-skinned Indians have high levels of melanin (which acts as a natural sunscreen) actually makes it essential for them to stay out longer in the sun for their vitamin D dose. 
But if you thought of cheating your way through it by sitting in your car or close to an office window, please note that UV-B rays do not penetrate glass. For those willing to present the “possibility of skin cancer” card as an excuse, both Koul and Sharma say that 20-60 minutes of daily sun does not cause skin cancer, and that the cost of avoiding the sun is far greater than tanning — take your pick from osteoporosis, frequent fractures, muscle malfunction, heart diseases, pancreatic cancer, and high risk of diabetes.
So, the choice really is clear — risk all that or wear shorts and tees, strut out into the sun, plug in your iPod and listen to the “resplendent” voice of  George Harrison singing the 1969 classic Here comes the sun, here comes the sun. It’s all right, it’s all right! 

Twitter: (at)chockro

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 01-07-2013)