Too much sun exposure has been associated with health issues such as skin cancers. This has given rise to the use of sunscreen to help shield the skin from direct sun rays. However, there are sunlight benefits. Moderate sun exposure, especially during the morning hours, can be therapeutic and beneficial in many ways.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 5-15 minutes of casual sun exposure to your hands, face, and arms, 2-3 times a week during the summer months, is sufficient to keep your vitamin D levels high. And for those along the equator where the sun rays are intense, even lesser periods of exposure are enough.
Soaking up in the sun for a few minutes each day may offer various health benefits, including:
1. Sunlight for enhanced mood
Sunshine is a free mood enhancer. Spending time in the sun can increase your energy levels and make you feel better. This is because sunlight stimulates the brain’s release of serotonin, a hormone associated with a clear focus, increased energy levels, calmness, and improved mood.
Lack of sun exposure may cause low levels of serotonin which has been linked to seasonal pattern depression, a type of depression associated with a change in seasons.
Likewise, sun exposure may be effective in the treatment of seasonal depression. Research shows that this condition affects approximately 10% of the population worldwide.
For certain people, lack of sunshine during the winter months may trigger symptoms of depression such as bad moods, overeating, sleeping too much, tiredness, and difficulty in making and keeping friends. These symptoms are rare during the warmer months and tend to occur around the same time each year.
2. Sunlight for better sleep
A good night’s sleep is essential for both emotional and physical wellbeing. It helps:
- Boost your immunity
- Improve mental health
- Support brain function
- Heightens creativity, concentration, and productivity
- Reduce inflammation
- Keep your heart healthy
- Prevent weight gain and associated conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes
- Acts as a natural pain killer
- Improves skin health
- Increase exercise performance
However, most people don’t get the required amount to enjoy these benefits. Having more than 7 hours of sleep each night is always recommended. But sleep quality also matters, and getting enough sun during the day may enhance your sleep quality.
This is because the rhythm that governs sleep hormones is greatly affected by exposure to sunlight.
While exposure to light, such as blue light at night, reduces the sleep-enhancing hormone melatonin, too much exposure to light during the day sets an internal clock for the production of more melatonin during the night.
Melatonin is a sleep-enhancing hormone that signals the body to prepare to sleep. It also contains antioxidants and has been shown to improve eye health by preventing and treating conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.
3. Sun is essential for the production of vitamin D
Sunlight is the best natural source of vitamin D.
When exposed to sunlight, the cholesterol beneath the skin is stimulated to produce vitamin D, an essential mineral needed for calcium absorption in the body.
Calcium promotes strong teeth, bones, and healthy muscle functions, including cardiovascular muscles.
Vitamin D may also boost immunity, reduce cardiovascular disease by reducing plaque buildup associated with heart disease, stroke, and heart attack, reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s, and reduce cancer risks.
Insufficient amounts of vitamin D may lead to a low bone density, which may increase the risk for fractures and osteoporosis. In severe cases, it may also lead to rickets in children, a condition that causes bones to become soft and bend.
4. Improves cardiovascular health and high blood pressure
Sun exposure prompts the body to release nitric oxide, which causes relaxation of blood vessels, causing a drop in blood pressure, the main factor in heart disease.
5. May help with weight control
We saw earlier that sunshine enhances the release of the happy hormone serotonin, which helps improve your mood. But also, serotonin curbs cravings and suppresses appetite. This will prevent unnecessary eating and snacking, thus making you lose weight.
Research also shows that exposure to sunlight in the early morning may help reduce body mass index. They believe that sunlight may help shrink fat cells below your skin surface, thus causing fat loss.
6. It may prevent certain types of cancers
While too much exposure to sunlight may predispose you to skin cancer, low levels may also increase your risk for certain cancers.
Studies show that people living in areas with fewer daylight hours have a higher risk for certain cancers such as ovarian, colon, breast, and pancreatic cancers compared to those with more sun during the day.
7. It kills bacteria and other harmful pathogens
Sunlight is the easiest and most common way of sanitizing the air. It may kill potentially harmful bacteria and other pathogens, including molds and other fungi.
UV light also acts as a natural disinfectant and has traditionally been used to eradicate harmful organisms in environments such as hospitals.
In today’s modernized world, some public locations and businesses have sanitizing UV lights on their entryways to help eradicate bacteria that may be lurking on the skin and clothes.
Opening those dark rooms and allowing the sun to go in may also prevent dampness and moisture, thus promoting fresh air circulation.
Researchers also found that you don’t have to open the windows for direct sunlight as the UV rays still retain their capacity to kill bacteria and viruses even when they go through conventional glass panes.
So, inviting more natural light into your home by pulling back curtains or opening the blinds or windows may help disinfect the house.
Final thoughts on sunlight benefits:
Neither too much nor too little sunlight is good for you. But getting just enough may do you some good, including enhancing your mood and preventing seasonal pattern depression, promoting better sleep, stimulating the release of vitamin D, improving cardiovascular health, maintaining a healthy weight, preventing certain cancers, and as a natural disinfectant to kill bacteria and pathogens.
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