Bad habits are tough to break, but good habits can be almost as difficult to get going. One that I started last year was getting five to 10 minutes of sun during brighter winter days. As the days grow shorter and cooler, and we're less likely to be outside, we're getting dramatically less day-to-day sun, which can affect our health and mood. So right now is a great time to start your "sun habit" if you don't already have one.

I got started with my own regular sun exposure after I noticed, after having spent the previous winter season in Hawaii and Australia, that I felt better than I had in years. I was living off-grid and basically outside, so I attributed my mood boost to the constant fresh air and plenty of sunshine. Upon returning home, I learned that most of us aren't getting enough vitamin D (which the body makes itself, but only in response to sun exposure); a lack of vitamin D can lead to a number of health issues.

According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: "The same DNA-damaging, sunburn-causing UVB wavelengths that sunscreens are designed to block also do some good: They kick off the chemical and metabolic chain reaction that produces vitamin D. Research shows that many people have low vitamin D levels. There is a well-documented relationship between low vitamin D levels and poor bone health. Now links have been made to everything from multiple sclerosis to prostate cancer. 'Linking' low vitamin D with these diseases doesn't prove cause-and-effect, but it suggests that possibility."

Having grown up with the (what I consider) misinformation that any time in the sun will give you skin cancer, a growing number of alternative and mainstream health professionals are suggesting that sun is actually important for health and shouldn't be avoided entirely. Of course, this doesn't mean you should slather yourself with coconut oil and "lay out" for hours at a time, but you shouldn't obsessively cover yourself year-round. Caution from the sun's most damaging rays is smart, but avoiding it altogether — unless you're taking medication that indicates you should — isn't necessary.

There's a safe level of sun, and 10 minutes a day will give your body the message to make more vitamin D, and might boost your mood, too; I find a little sunshine time, sans phone or distractions, to be a nice time-out for the brain. Now that we're all working harder than ever, a sun break is a good time to de-stress and take a breather, literally, and it's certainly healthier than a smoke break!

When I sit out for my few minutes a day, I uncover my face, and my upper and lower arms (when it's cold out, I slip on a warm vest, but leave my arms uncovered). It's a totally free boost, and when you get a bit of sun day by day, you won't burn, and may end up with just a hint of color, which will brighten that winter complexion.

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

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