In contrast to last year, when the spring months felt somber, fearful, and enclosed, this spring has brought about feelings about hope and renewal. After the winter months of cooler temperatures, people are scrambling to spend time outdoors, and rightfully so.

In the initial efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, thousands of outdoor facilities were shut down to the public, hindering many people’s ability to enjoy the open, fresh air. Across the country, beaches, parks and even some waterways were closed.

Healthcare professionals saw an early and shocking trend: Patients that stayed predominantly indoors became the most ill when they contracted COVID-19. In July 2020, the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging published a compelling study: Low vitamin D levels are an independent risk factor (i.e., there’s an association but not necessarily a causal link) for death due to COVID-19. Ninety-three percent of patients who experienced severe symptoms with the disease had a vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D is a nutrient our bodies need for good health, and luckily you can get it for free by spending some time outdoors. A generation ago, vitamin D deficiency was not a concern. People were outdoors so much that an extraordinary set of circumstances had to be present to lead to vitamin D deficiency.

The American lifestyle has become so sedentary that the deficiency is now much more common.

While a common response to this might be to just take a supplement, a recommendation we all should really consider is to go outside in the sun. This spring and summer, take every opportunity to get outside and enjoy the beautiful Lowcountry weather.

When you wake up, go outside on a screened-in porch and enjoy a cup of coffee. Go outside for walks along the May River or on one of the surrounding, sandy beaches.

Go outside and explore South Carolina’s state park system. Go outside and cook dinner on the grill. Go outside and plant some flowers, even if it’s just in a planter on your porch.

If you haven’t already, make the switch from a sedentary, indoors existence and take advantage of the free health benefits that come from spending time in the sun. Just remember to wear your sunscreen.

Dr. Heather Hinshelwood, MD, FACEP is a double board-certified physician and a passionate proponent for healthy living. She is a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and currently practices at Fraum Center for Restorative Health.