sunlight

  1. Get some sun to slash your stroke risk

    I can think of about a million reasons to get outside and bask in the sunlight every day -- but if you're looking for one of your own, how about this: It can slash your risk of a stroke.

    The latest research shines some light on stroke risk, with one new study finding that people who live in the nation's sunniest climates have a 60 percent lower risk of stroke than those who live up north.

    The one exception to the rule: The so-called "stroke belt" of the south, where obesity and diabetes -- both big-time stroke risk factors of their own -- are higher than they are in the rest of the country.

    In other words, all the sun in Georgia won't undo the ravages of a double-extra-large waistline.

    But if you're slim, trim and living in Minnesota or Maine, you don't have to lower your latitude to lower your stroke risk -- because you can harness the real power of sunlight anywhere on earth.

    All you need is some vitamin D, as another new study shows again how the sunshine vitamin is the real reason for that lower stroke risk.

    In this one, researchers found that people who had the highest intake of D were 11 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those with the lowest.

    If that sounds a little... well... unimpressive, that's because the new study didn't offer a real look at D levels. Instead, the researchers used food frequency questionnaires.

    Most people don't get the bulk of their D from food anyway.

    Once you look at real levels of D, you see real benefits -- with other studies showing that low D can boost your stroke risk by up to 50 percent.

    If that's not enough of a benefit, other studies have shown that vitamin D can help protect your heart, bones and brain and slash your risk of colds, the flu, diabetes, allergies and even cancer.

    You can let your body make its own D by stepping out into the sunlight, but unless you live in a warmer climate don't count on that alone. Everything from your clothing to the seasonal angle of the earth can impede D production -- so take a supplement to make sure you get what you need.

  2. Shine a light on seasonal depression

    Your skin isn't the only part of your body that needs a regular dose of sunlight -- your brain thrives on the stuff, too.

    Just as your skin helps turn sunlight into vitamin D, your brain uses those same bright rays as a cue to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps you to feel happy and content.

    Lack of sun is why most of us experience the winter blahs at some point -- and for millions of people, it's the direct cause of an annual battle with serious depression.

    Now, a new gadget is promising to bring quick and lasting relief to people who suffer from that seasonal affective disorder -- and it works by giving your brain the light it needs to get the serotonin factory producing at mid-summer levels.

    The device looks like a set of the earbuds people use for listening to music -- but instead of tiny speakers, these earbuds contain little flashlights with enough power to send a beam of light through the ears and straight into the brain.

    Side note: I'm going to be more careful with Q-tips from now on.

    Using light to beat SAD is not a new concept. Many people already get relief by staring at a light box. It works -- but it's a pain in the butt: It can take an hour a day, every day, or more to get some relief... and who has that kind of time these days?

    That's where the new technique really shines: In one clinical trial, nearly 80 percent of 89 SAD patients who used the earbud flashlights were completely cured with just 12 minutes of treatment a day, according to data presented at the recent International Forum for Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Budapest.

    Just 12 minutes! If this holds up to further study, this won't just be a breakthrough -- it would revolutionize how we treat SAD.

    The only drawback is the price. At around $300, it's more expensive than a lightbox and even pricier than an iPod.

    But since it's every bit as portable as a music player, you can plug in on your way to the office and arrive at work each day singing a new -- and happier -- tune.

  3. Step into the sun

    Despite what you've heard, the only protection from the sun your skin really needs is a little common sense.

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