It seems that the sun gets a bad reputation as far as health goes. Sunburn, skin cancer and premature aging are just some of the harmful effects of the sun. Just like so many other things, too much of a good thing can be harmful, and skin damage can happen. However, by taking advantage of the proper times to go out in the sun, and soaking up those beautiful sun rays in moderation, the sunlight can benefit you in so many ways. Let’s take a look at how sunlight benefits health.
Sunlight is a Mood Lifter
Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting a person’s mood and helping them feel calm and focused. In the winter time, when we see less of the sun, as well as expose ourselves less to the sun’s rays, our serotonin levels can drop, and in some cases, it can drop to the point that it can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Even though one may not suffer from serious depression or SAD, have you ever noticed the overall mood of others during a period of several days, or even a week, of gloomy weather where you don’t see the sun at all? I have, and it sure isn’t positive. After so many days of rainy, or cloudy, or just plain gloomy weather, my mood seems to follow the weather pattern, and although I am a mostly a positive person, even I can become glum, just like the weather. Others will mention how cloudy and gloomy it is out, and their tone conveys gloominess. Although you know it’ll happen, you wonder to yourself whether or not you’ll ever see the sunlight again.
When the sun does finally come out, it’s a mood lifter. A beautiful, sunny day can put a smile on my face. During the warm, summer months, I like to go outside on a bright, sunny day, close my eyes, and lift my face towards the sun. I simply stand there for a while, and it’s such a great feeling. The sun warming on my face gives me such a peaceful, comforting feeling. Maybe it’s simply the serotonin, but I feel like the sun is giving me a big hug, and I love that feeling. If you have never done this before, I highly recommend it; it’s definitely a mood lifter!
Sunlight Boots Your Vitamin D Levels
The sun is the most natural, and most abundant source of Vitamin D. Most essential vitamins are obtained through the food we eat. However, according to The National Institutes of Health:
For most white people, a half-hour in the summer sun in a bathing suit can initiate the release of 50,000 IU (1.25 mg) vitamin D into the circulation within 24 hours of exposure; this same amount of exposure yields 20,000–30,000 IU in tanned individuals and 8,000–10,000 IU in dark-skinned people.
There are certain foods that naturally contain Vitamin D, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, beef liver and egg yolks. There are also food and drink which are produced by adding Vitamin D for health, such as milk and cereals. You can also take Vitamin D supplements if you cannot obtain enough through the sun, food, or drink. No matter how you get it, Vitamin D is an essential vitamin in maintaining good health.
Vitamin D is beneficial in absorbing calcium, which is good for healthy bones. This is a major benefit in preventing rickets and osteoporosis. Vitamin D can also lower your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s by more than 50%1.
Although the sun is thought of in a negative light when it comes to cancer, Vitamin D actually has anti-cancer benefits. Sensible sun exposure has been shown to reduce the risk of skin, breast and prostate cancers, along with the potential to reduce the chance of other types of cancers.
To get the natural, healthy benefits of Vitamin D, spend a little time out in the sun. According to Healthline, 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your face, hands, and arms two to three times a week is enough to obtain its Vitamin D benefits.
Sunlight and Skin Conditions
Sunlight can be a natural way to cure certain skin conditions in some people. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sun exposure can help some people with certain skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, vitiligo and acne. While UV radiation therapy can be used to treat these conditions, the same benefits can be found in the sun.
“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.” ~ Charlotte Whitton
Sunlight and Nitric Oxide
Research has found that nitric oxide (NO) is released into the blood vessels when your skin comes in contact with sunlight. When exposed to the sun’s UV rays, the rapid NO production caused by the sun’s rays was found to be able to lower blood pressure not only during exposure, but for some time after as well. Benefits of lowering blood pressure include reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, which is a great health benefit as well.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
The sun’s rays are full of Vitamin D and Nitric Oxide, both which are essential to good health. Although the sun can be beneficial to your health and well-being, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. How much is too much is debatable, but how long you bask in the sun depends on the time of day, as well as the time of year. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and it is recommended that you avoid that time if possible. If you’re looking to get your Vitamin D on your lunch hour, you should spend no more than 10 minutes in the direct sunlight during this time. 30 to 45 minutes is a good timeline to get your sunlight during non-peak hours.
Just remember to check with your doctor if you have any medical issues that could be worsened by sun exposure. Check any medications you take as well, as some of them can have adverse reaction to the sun’s rays.
For anyone else, on the next warm sunny day, step outside, close your eyes, and face the sun. Let it soak in; it’s intoxicating! And I just bet you’ll feel better the rest of the day because of it. Sunlight benefits health in so many ways.
- Littlejohns TJ, et al. “Vitamin D and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease.” Neurology. 2014 Sep 2;83(10):920-8.