Workout Wednesday: Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin

So here is my dilemma: on one hand, we’re told that unprotected sun exposure can cause damage to DNA and increase risk of skin cancer. Some dermatologists are extreme enough to suggest that wearing sunscreen is essential before any amount of sun exposure and that you should avoid exposing your skin to the sun between the hours of 11am and 3pm at all costs. On the other hand, we are told that a certain amount of unprotected sun exposure is extremely beneficial, if not essential, for producing adequate amounts of vitamin D, one of the most important vitamins for the body. What is a person to do in this sticky situation? Become a shadow hermit? Take some extra supplements? I’m not a fan of either idea.
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Let’s take a quick detour. So, I think that historical word origins can be pretty cool sometimes. I know that’s kind of nerdy, but I’m ok with it. In the early twentieth century, several scientists began to notice that certain disorders could be prevented or cured simply by eating certain foods. In particular, one scientist noticed that eating polished rice (the pretty rice without the hull) didn’t prevent a neurological disease known as beriberi, but eating unpolished rice (with the hull still attached) would prevent the disease. Obviously there was something special about these rice husks that had to do with preventing the disease. In 1912, Cashmir Funk, a Polish scientist with a really awesome name that sounds like a groovy sweater, found the specific chemical compound in the rice husk that was responsible for preventing beriberi. The compound contained an “amino” group, which is the chemical term for a group with a nitrogen atom attached to three hydrogen atoms (NH3) and it was vital to a healthy life. Therefore, Funk decided to name the compound a “vitamine,” which was later shortened to vitamin [1]. So there we have it: the word vitamin didn’t exist until 1912, and our great-great grandparents had never even heard of the vitamins and the sunscreen that are advertised as being so essential today. Crazy how that works.
But coming back to the topic at hand, vitamins are so named because they are essential to life and must be consumed in the diet; our bodies do not synthesize vitamins themselves. Or do they? The truth is that we simply don’t synthesize adequate amounts of the vitamins that we need, but two vitamins can, in fact, be synthesized in the body. A large amount of our necessary vitamin K is synthesized by gut bacteria, and a large amount of required vitamin D is synthesized from cholesterol compounds in our skin in a reaction that requires UV light. Vitamin D is essential primarily for maintaining the balance of calcium in the body: adequate blood calcium levels are needed for proper neuron function and muscle contraction, but adequate bone calcium levels are needed for the mineralization process that makes our bones solid and not spongy. The bones and the blood exchange calcium, based on the current needs of the body, and vitamin D that facilitates and maintains this balance.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that it can be stored in the body much better than water-soluble vitamins. This makes vitamin D supplementation risky because it is easy to overdose—in fact, vitamin D is the most toxic of all of the fat soluble vitamins. The best way to be sure that you’re getting enough vitamin D is to spend a small amount of time exposed to sunlight each day (without the protection of sunscreen) to facilitate the reaction that makes vitamin D in your skin. People with lighter skin complete this process more quickly than people with darker skin, because darker skin means more melanin, which means more protection from UV rays. Ten minutes with face, legs, and arms exposed is plenty for a fair skinned person to get enough vitamin D on a sunny summer day, but thirty minutes might be required for a person with darker skin to make the same amount of vitamin D with the same amount of skin exposed.
Several factors block the UV rays that are required for the vitamin D making process, including window glass, clothing, sunscreen, and latitude. Yep—latitude. North of 42 degrees latitude, (some sources say Atlanta), there are not enough UV B rays reaching your skin to synthesize vitamin D during the winter from around October to March [2]. That’s a pretty big hunk of the year! So what are some other sources of vitamin D for those months when the sun apparently isn’t going to help us out? Most milk is now fortified with vitamin D, as well as some cereals that are fortified with all sorts of vitamins. Fatty fish such as salmon is also one of the best sources. But vegans take note—plant foods just aren’t good sources of vitamin D, so it’s important for you to get enough exposure to sun when the timing is right!
Although many foods commonly bought at the grocery store are fortified with vitamin D, experts say that it’s still important to allow some sun exposure for adequate vitamin D synthesis. Studies have shown that low vitamin D levels were associated with higher risk of heart disease and colon cancer—yikes! [2].   But what about the risks of sun exposure? It’s all about moderation. Although I am a huge believer in the necessity of sunscreen, I try to remember my great great grandparents who had never even heard of it to remind myself that a few minutes in the sun without sunscreen each day is perfectly OK. For me and my fair skin, just walking from class to class throughout the day is probably enough time to synthesize some vitamin D, but if I’m planning on staying out for a while, the sunscreen is coming with me, and it should be going with you, too!
So go on, wear that tee shirt and those shorts and don’t put your sunscreen on right away if you’re anticipating some quality time in the sun. You’ll be doing yourself a favor by making some Vitamin D; just don’t forget to keep track of time and sunscreen it up after a few minutes. You can always make up for a little lacking Vitamin D with your breakfast cereal, but those corn flakes aren’t going to help you out when it comes to skin cancer [3]. Only you can do that.
Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

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In this last week of class, with finals looming, many students are feeling the stress of this time of the semester. I notice that as the assignments and deadlines approach, I find myself exercising less and eating whatever I find in front of me that is quick to prepare (or does not require any preparation at all, cue the bag of marshmallows). I start to feel pretty tired and stressed, and I don’t always have time to pay close attention to my exercise and eating patterns. Food and physical activity goals melt away and then just seem like memories of things I once cared about.

But hold on, all is not lost! We have one big opportunity coming up to spend a little more time on ourselves: summer. Continue reading

April: Alcohol Awareness Month

Contributed by Kimberly Yates, UNC Carpe Diem

Not everybody likes to be the designated driver.

You’re signing yourself up for a night of sobriety while your friends let the stress of the week dry up like the drops left in bottles that they seem to leave in their wake. By the end of the night, you might be trying to remember what about this was supposed to be so fun. Well before we write it off completely, let’s take a few things into consideration.

Alcohol – whether under-aged or legal – has its risks. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) cites that alcohol is the number one drug for America’s youth, and it is more likely to kill our age group than all illegal drugs combined. As college students, we may not have done the statistical analysis or have memorized the fact sheets, but we know that every time we refill our red cups with whatever unknown concoction the party is serving, we’re taking the chance that we might go just a little too hard and drink just a little bit too much.

And from time to time, that can lead to a drinking ticket.

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After the initial panic subsides, what do you do next? You’ve got a drinking ticket, the prospect of a blemish on your record and angry parents yelling at you. You want this over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. After praying for time travel and contemplating moving far away, you’ve come up with no answers. So let me give you your solution. Carpe Diem.

Carpe Diem is a collegiate alcohol education program created to get you out of this pickle you’ve found yourself in. Not only is the class you’re going to take going to help get your charges dismissed and complete the four-hour requirement that UNC Chapel Hill sets, but it’ll also get you back on track with your now-strained relationship with alcohol. If you’re under-aged, maybe for you this means waiting until you’re 21. If you’re 21, maybe this means knowing your limits and finding ways to stick to it. Either way, Carpe Diem is there to help you— not judge you— and get you back to life at UNC.

In light of April being NCADD’s Alcohol Awareness Month, it’s especially important to find that balance. Students need to find a way to blow off steam, but health is a priority that can’t be overlooked.

So take this time during Alcohol Awareness Month to evaluate your relationship with alcohol. Yes, it can be fun to shut down the stress of the week and open up a bottle. Yes, it can be fun to take the night off from responsibility. We do deserve some time to shut the computer and close the books. But there are other ways to do that and minimize the risks involved with alcohol, like volunteering to be the DD.

Being in a state of mental and physical well-being goes beyond just knowing the risks – it means acting on them, and that’s what Alcohol Awareness Month is all about. April is ending, but the sentiment continues in Student Wellness activities and services to keep all Heels knowledgeable about alcohol and prepared to take action in worst-case scenarios. Carpe Diem and Student Wellness know the steps you can take after getting a drinking ticket, but more importantly, they have the resources to keep you from getting a citation to begin with.

So challenge yourself. Be the DD. Maybe it’s not the college experience you’ve had thus far. Maybe it’s not the average Friday night out that you’ve gotten used to. But a night of being the DD minimizes your risk of getting a citation while still giving you a chance to get to the party, and that sounds like a good deal to me.

Check out these links to find out more about Alcohol Awareness Month, Carpe Diem, Student Wellness and what you can do to make sure you’re staying smart and safe.

Crunch Time

This time of year always seems really busy. And while there is always more schoolwork to do (always!), April also brings with it the end of the year crunch – thinking about summer plans, looking for a job, deciding on fall classes, and planning end-of-year shenanigans. Some of these activities are fun and well worth adding to your schedule even if it makes life a bit more packed. But that does not diminish how crazed I feel this time of year.

As a graduate student myself, I was feeling particularly anxious last week with lots of decisions to be made and thoughts of summer. Talking to others about what was going on, there are those people, those calm people, who say: “Don’t worry! Everything will be fine…” (you know who you are). And while that is comforting for a minute, I usually walk away from those people and think “What?! How can they say that? They don’t know everything will work out!” Needless to say, I may be a bit of a worrier. But I am also beginning to learn that those crazy calm people might just be on to something.

Worrying about something doesn’t make the situation any clearer, nor is it productive. If you are concerned about finding a summer job (or your first post-graduation full time job), it is probably much more beneficial to write a really strong cover letter or set up an informational interview, than to sit and worry. Taking action and doing something about the issue at hand will make you feel better than just thinking about it. It will also free up a whole bunch of time for the fun things on your calendar too!

So here are some of my thoughts for being a little more like those calm people and a little less like this:

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Patience This one is particularly hard for me because I like plans to be ironed out right away, but it is important to accept some uncertainties in life without getting upset. Life doesn’t always run on your timeline, and sometimes letting things go for a day or two is all that is needed for something to work itself out (even though 24-48 hours can seem like forever). You can only do so much, like emailing a prospective employer, dropping by a professor’s office, or checking to see if airline prices have dropped, but not everything is in our control and that’s okay.

Sleep I find that during stressful times I tend to sleep less, and yet, what I really need in order to be at full-functioning capacity to make decisions and get through the day is more sleep. At least 8 hours, for me. I find it much easier to tackle my daily routine and all the extra activities that are happening when I am rested.

You can’t keep it together all the time Even calm people don’t hold it together all the time. But they do release stress or anxiety in different ways. Instead of letting everything ball up inside, go for a walk, find a fun activity and laugh with friends, call mom, or give yourself permission to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling for half an hour. Having some down time or time to socialize is really important, especially during the busy times. Hopefully some of the activities that are adding up are social events, like graduation ceremonies, end-of-year dinners, farewell-lunches. Think of these not as adding to your to-do list, but as fun opportunities to unwind a bit.

Express gratitude Take a minute to assess all of the people, things, and opportunities you have that you are grateful for. It may not seem like much, but doing so can actually help reduce the hormones that increase with stress and anxiety. Also flooding your mind with positive thoughts will re-train your brain to focus less on the negative. Instead of focusing on the what-ifs, maybes, and all that might come with the future, think about how much you have already accomplished.

 

Image Source: themissfits.com; Muse Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/04/habits-of-calm-people_n_4174903.html

Workout Wednesday: Cycle Cinema Sundays

Picture this – it’s a Sunday afternoon and you really want to watch a movie. But you also feel the urge to be active and exercise. Which one do you choose?! We have the solution for you – Cycle Cinema Sundays with UNC Campus Rec. With this, you can have it all.
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On certain Sundays, the Fetzer Hall cycle room will be transformed into a movie theatre. Pedal away as you watch beloved films, like Kung Fu Panda. To sign up, grab some friends and head over the SRC front desk. The next movie date is April 13th. For more information, and to learn about other special events with UNC Campus Rec, click here. Cycling can improve your life on several levels. Whether it’s to amp up your fitness, get places faster, or help the environment, cycling can get you there. Here are several benefits:

1. Low impact exercise: weak knees or sensitive joints? Cycling is for you – it’s a low impact way to increase your heart rate and get in the recommended 20-60 minutes, 5 days a week of cardiovascular exercise.

2. Decrease cancer risk: studies have shown that increased exercise helps reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer. Choose to cycle!

3. Build strength: Many people falsely believe that cycling only works out the legs. This simply isn’t true – cycling works the whole body as you work to propel the bike forward. From the biceps to the abdominals, biking uses almost the whole body.

4. Lose weight: A steady bicycle pace burns about 300 calories per hour. Using this number, you would burn 11 pounds of fat in a year biking 30 minutes per day.

5. Reduce stress: By raising your heart rate and focusing on a singular activity, biking can help you reduce stress and improve your mood. ​

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Making a Change: Are You Ready?

Have you ever thought about making a change? Perhaps creating a new habit? Studying more? Or finally kicking that late-night frosty habit that was only heightened by the recent discovery of the swirled chocolate and vanilla frosty?

We all want to make a change at some time or another. Through my work at Student Wellness, I’ve learned a bit about making changes.

I do motivational interviewing (MI) over at Student Wellness as a part of my job. MI is a type of counseling that is non-judgmental, non-confrontational, and non-adversarial, and focuses on eliciting “change talk” from clients. This is done, in part, by understanding the Stages of Change, and “meeting people where they are.”

So, without further ado, I present to you the Stages of Change (also called the Transtheoretical Model if you want to impress someone with how smart you are). I find this incredibly helpful for thinking about making positive, healthy changes in my own life, and I hope you find this useful as well.

Think about what it would take to move you from one stage to the next. Would weighing the pros and cons help? Would seeking out more information be useful? What would you change if you could? How about writing out a plan, or talking about making a change with a friend or family member? What are potential barriers to change? Whatever you want to change, you alone are the one that can do it. Hopefully, by understanding this model, you are now one step closer to making a small step towards positive changes in your life!

1) PRECONTEMPLATION (Not ready to change)
The individual is not currently considering change: “Ignorance is bliss.”
People are not intending to take action in the foreseeable future, usually in the next six months.

2) CONTEMPLATION(Thinking of changing)
Ambivalent about change: “Sitting on the fence.”
Not considering change within the next month.

3) PREPARATION (Ready to change)
Some experience with change and are trying to change: “Testing the waters.”
Planning to act within 1 month.

4) ACTION (Making change)
The active work toward desired behavioral change including modification of environment, experiences, or behavior have been taken. At this stage people have made specific overt modifications in their life-styles within the past six months.

5) MAINTENANCE (Staying on track)
Here, the focus is on ongoing, active work to maintain changes made and prevent relapse. At this stage people are less tempted to go back to their old habits and increasingly more confident that they can continue their change.

Take care of yourselves and each other, Tar Heels!

Dispelling the myth: “Condoms are for single people”

We hear it all of the time on campus: “I don’t need condoms or other safer sex supplies; I’m in a committed relationship.”  In heterosexual partnerships and partnerships between two males, research demonstrates an interesting trend:  those in casual or non-committed partnerships tend to use condoms more frequently than those in long-term or committed relationships. Basically, once relationships get serious, people are less likely to use condoms.

This post is NOT about associating judgment with anyone’s choice about using a condom, but rather, to de-stigmatize condom use in all relationships and partnership situations, whether they’re committed, casual, experimental, long-term, short-term, opposite sex, same-sex, etc.

Why might people stop using condoms in committed partnerships?

The reasoning behind discontinuing condom use in committed partnerships can be quite varied, and might include:

  •   Not having sexual acts that necessitate condoms (example: two partners who decide to stop having oral, anal or vaginal sex; or in another example: two females in a partnership who only have oral sex, would use dams rather than condoms; related to this example – keep in mind that many condoms can be easily converted to dental dams for use during oral sex!)
  •   Pregnancy risk is not a concern (e.g., pregnancy is not a factor in the relationship and/or some other form of contraception is used)
  •   Condoms imply fear or non-awareness of STI status of partner
  •   Condoms imply fear or non-awareness of partner monogamy
  •   Proposing to use condoms is a breach of partner intimacy in a committed relationship
  •   Proposing to use condoms is a way of communicating one’s own infidelity or positive STD status
  •   The notion that condoms decrease sexual pleasure
  •   Condoms are uncomfortable for partner(s) (e.g., allergy, improper size)

It’s true that both partners getting tested (and treated, if necessary) for STIs/HIV is a way of reducing risk of transmission within a partnership. In theory, if both partners are negative for STIs/HIV and are monogamous, then there’s little to no STI risk in that partnership. However, this idea is complicated by the fact that many STIs are not routinely tested for in exams, and that the frequency and timing of STI/HIV testing matters (one’s status may change with each new partner, for example). All of that said, in cases of total monogamy and recent mutual partner testing/treatment, the risk of STIs may be lower.

However, most of the reasons for condom discontinuation noted above involve larger issues about how we conceptualize condom use. They highlight serious social norms and beliefs (whether factual or not) around condoms, and touch on themes of intimacy, partner communication, fidelity and trust.

Why might people continue to use condoms?

Irrespective of what type of partnership they are in, people start and continue using condoms for a variety of reasons:

  •   To continually safeguard against STIs, including those that are not routinely tested for like herpes and HPV
  •   If another contraceptive method is used, to provide additional protection against pregnancy in addition to STIs (contraceptive options like the pill, patch and ring have a typical effectiveness of only 92%)
  •   To protect against STIs, if STI status is unknown for one or both partners
  •   To protect against STIs, if STI testing occurred outside of a testing window period*
  •   Many prefer using condoms as the only prevention method
  •   Many like condoms because it can delay the time to ejaculation, and therefore keep sex going for longer
  •   Many may prefer condoms because they can increase pleasure for their partner (ribbed condoms, studded condoms, etc.)
  •   Many may prefer condoms because it allows for quicker and easy clean up afterward.
  •   Wearing condoms no matter the nature of your relationship helps reinforce the HABIT. Behaviors are habits, and the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

* Side note: Window period to a period of detection in which you can identify an STI on a test. For the rapid oral HIV test, the window period is around 3 months, so if there was an exposure within 3 months of taking the test, it may not show up on the test.

Let’s Make a Pact

Let’s get rid of the judgment and association of condom use just being for casual hook-ups or non-committed relationships! In fact, let’s open up the discussion even more: there is no one contraception or protective choice best for certain types of partnerships.

  •   Condoms are not just for those in non-committed relationships who are fearful of STI status or partner fidelity
  •   Hormonal contraception is not the only viable method of protection for committed partners
  •   The IUD is not just for women who are married or in serious relationships
  •   Hormonal contraception is not just for women who anticipate having multiple partnerships, nor does it make people more likely to engage in sexual activity

There are plenty of reasons why people choose different contraceptive and protection options during sex – and choice is a beautiful thing! The important point here is that thinking thoughtfully about options with a partner is key, as is challenging the norms we set around these choices.  Trained staff at UNC Student Wellness are available to talk through contraceptive options with you through our confidential C.H.A.T.S. feature (ONYEN required), or in appointments by calling 919-962-WELL. And, condoms and other safer sex supplies are available to UNC students through online request, through drop-in at Student Wellness, and through the condom dispensers installed on campus.