The heatwave that recently blasted through our great State of Arizona served to get our attention in a triple-digit kind of way. I was no exception to the ‘heat shock’ having gotten accustomed to the beautiful, temperate weather in Sedona after relocating from the Phoenix Valley in January. I had to remind myself that the high temperatures can and do get much worse in other parts of the state. Still, on these super-hot days, even in Sedona, the sun does not feel like much of a friend and it is wise to avoid much outdoor activity—especially in the heat of the day.
Indeed, sunlight is hard on our skin – the short UVB wavelengths that cause sunburn can suppress the skin’s immune system and damage DNA. The longer, penetrating UVA wavelengths can also damage skin cell membrane and the DNA inside. Interestingly, newer evidence indicates that over exposure to the sun when you are young—prior to your 20th birthday—matters most. Several studies have suggested that sudden or intermittent exposure to a lot of sun is more dangerous then chronic exposure over time, as indicated in a report about melanoma from S. Gandini and associates published at PubMed.gov. Seasoned Arizonans generally know how to avoid the extreme heat and some of us can be seen scampering from shady spot to shady spot anytime we are outdoors. But, what about the flip side of the sun coin?
Dr. Robert Stern, chair of the Department of Dermatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, describes some people’s fear of skin cancer as being so intense that they become “solar-phobes”—covering up every bit of skin and never going outdoors. As it turns out, those sun-burning UVB wavelengths with the potential to damage our DNA also have the power to stimulate a chemical reaction that produces Vitamin D. The human body needs Vitamin D for heathy bones and recent links have been made between low Vitamin D and diseases such as multiple sclerosis and prostate cancer.
Besides, helping our physical being, sunlight is now being prescribed to help our mental and emotional states of being by reversing depression associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Exposure to sunlight is believed to increase the brain’s release of serotonin—a mood-boosting hormone that helps us to feel calm and focused. And of course, just getting outside to engage in a preferred physical activity such as gardening, golfing, hiking, or fishing is invigorating and enjoyable. Dr. Stern cautions that too many of us have gone from sun worship to sun dread. He suggests that using a sunscreen with SPF of at least 15 when outdoors and wearing a hat and shirt around midday can give you the bit of sunshine you need while protecting yourself from the harmful elements of too much sun.
Meanwhile, when those outrageous heatwaves hit or perhaps after you have already had your daily allotment of fun in the sun, I invite you to join us at the Community Center for a cool glass of iced tea over lunch, or to engage in an exercise, art, or meditation class in the comfort of our air-conditioned facility. The Sedona Community Center also has rental space for meetings and special events…we can even cater your event so you can stay out of the hot kitchen!