Many of you already emphasize time outside for your kids, and we know the many physical, social, and emotional benefits of outdoor play for children and adolescents. If you find yourself worn down by requests for more time on electronics or complaints about the temperature, let me offer one more reason to stay strong and make sure your kids are spending time outside everyday: Vitamin D. We get vitamin D from exposure to the sun, in addition to certain foods like fish, egg yolks, and some mushrooms. I know 20-30 minutes in the sun is more likely to happen than my daughters eating mushrooms and egg yolks. Vitamin D is the only vitamin that is a hormone, and research has linked it to areas of the brain that are connected to depression, as well as to the release of serotonin and dopamine, which also play a role in your mood.
When a client is struggling with depression, fatigue, and physical aches and pains, I will recommend they ask their pediatrician to do a blood test to check, among other things, vitamin levels. Multiple clients have been found to have significantly low levels of vitamin D, and the use of daily supplements have been very helpful. While psychotherapy and medication are still necessary for these clients, the increased vitamin D has lessened fatigue and increased energy, and even improved their mood to some degree. Finding ways to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D will be important for their overall mental and physical health. Here are some suggestions for ways to ensure regular intake of vitamin D, which is important if you are struggling with depression already, or if you are looking for protective factors to help lessen the risk of depression.
- SUNSHINE! Whether your kids are at the pool, riding bikes, or coloring with sidewalk chalk, it all counts. If you find this to be a struggle, pay attention to what they do inside that can also be done outside. Read, practice an instrument, build Legos, snack, paint, etc…just do it outside.
- Food. While it may be difficult to get your kids to eat some of these foods, try some new recipes this summer to make them more appealing, or find ways to sneak them in. Fatty fish (salmon, trout, fresh or canned tuna), egg whites, portobello mushrooms.
- Fortified foods like cereals, orange juice, tofu, cows milk, plant-based milks (soy, almond).
- And for those times when you can’t get them outside, get them close to an open window, every little bit helps.