Humans have a love-hate relationship with the sun. For thousands of years, the iridescent golden orb in the sky has fascinated and intrigued us. While many of us love nothing more than taking a vacation that involves basking in the sun and feeling its warm glow on our skin, we also fear the sun.
Warnings about harmful UV rays, skin damage, and premature aging have many of us reaching for lotions and potions to create a barrier. The truth about sunlight is that it provides a raft of benefits for our health and well-being. If careful, you can reap the rewards of being out in the sun.
In this comprehensive guide, we'll outline five key benefits, highlighting the advantageous effects of sunlight on our bodies and minds.
The Top 5 Benefits of Sunlight
Spending time outdoors and feeling the sun on your skin can benefit your physical and mental health. Here are the top 5 benefits of sunlight.
1. Vitamin D Production
Many people react negatively to the idea of being exposed to UV rays. This is mainly because there is a link between sitting in the sun or using sunbeds and getting skin cancer. It is essential to be aware of skin cancer risks and protect your skin when UV rays are powerful. Still, it's also crucial to understand the benefits of UV exposure.
UV light emitted by the sun reacts with the body to form vitamin D. This is essential because the body cannot produce vitamin D independently. Vitamin D is critical in boosting immunity and ensuring healthy absorption of crucial minerals, including calcium.
A lack of vitamin D can cause tiredness, slow healing, aches and pains, muscle weakness, and cramps, as well as elevating the risk of conditions that affect the bones. Research also suggests that UV exposure can boost metabolism and weight loss, increase libido and protect the gut microbiome.
2. Mood and Energy Boost
Studies show that spending time outside in the sunshine can boost our mood and make us feel good. Even if you're at work in the office and can't sit out in the sun all day, if it's bright and sunny outside, you're more likely to feel happy, optimistic, and energetic.
This is because sunlight increases the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that has a feel-good effect. High serotonin levels contribute to increased energy levels, positivity, and relaxation. Low levels of serotonin are often seen in individuals who have symptoms of depression or SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
SAD affects people in the colder, darker winter months and is often treated using artificial lights or lamps to elevate serotonin levels. Being exposed to bright light can also improve fertility and boost libido.
3. Better Sleep
The circadian rhythm is a natural cycle that dictates how our bodies work. Humans are designed to rise and wake when the sun comes up and rest and sleep when the sun sets. Our lifestyles and schedules have changed as we have evolved, and we are often exposed to artificial light from gadgets and devices. We have become increasingly removed from our natural circadian rhythms.
This means that many people struggle to get enough quality sleep and may feel that their body is out of kilter or not quite right. Waking up to natural sunlight is a simple and effective way to restore circadian rhythms and stabilize the internal body clock. Rising and resting in line with the sun's movement should help enhance sleep quality and reduce the risk of sleep troubles.
Now, I hear you say it's unrealistic in our day and age, especially since it gets dark early in the winter and stays light till late in the summer. I hear you. However, there are things you can do to help your body find its natural circadian rhythm without becoming a caveman or cavewoman.
Exposure to sunlight during the day, primarily until the early afternoon hours, will keep you alert and energized for the rest of the day. However, you'd like to dim the lights in your house 2 hours before going to bed to signal to your body that it's soon sleepy time.
4. Enhanced Eye Health
Most of us will have grown up being advised to avoid looking at the sun, but there are benefits to safely exposing your eyes to sunlight. Controlled, moderate exposure to the sun helps to enhance eye health.
It also has an influential role in regulating hormone activity within the body. Light from the eyes travels to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls the pituitary gland, the control panel of the endocrine system. The hormones that are released by this vital gland impact every organ.
Exposing children to sunlight daily can also prevent them from becoming nearsighted. According to studies, nearsightedness in US kids increased significantly compared to 45 years ago. One of the culprits is the need for more time outdoors in the sun.
5. Exposure to healing Full-Spectrum Colors
Sunlight comprises a full spectrum of colors and electromagnetic waves, offering myriad health benefits. Exposure to an array of colors impacts how certain enzymes and systems work and can also provide remedial effects for people with health conditions or symptoms.
Many enzymes in the human body react to different light colors. In a study of enzyme activity from 1979, Martinek and Berezin discovered that specific colors could boost enzyme function by up to 500%.
Examples include cytochrome c oxidase, which responds to red light. Exposure to red light increases the production of ATP, which plays a critical role in transferring energy to cells. Green light has been shown to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Blue light is commonly used to treat jaundice (yellowing of the skin) and manage pain in conditions like arthritis.
How much sunlight is enough?
Exposing the skin to 30 minutes of direct sunlight a few days a week is recommended. Research shows that the length will depend on age, skin tone, and the season. While during spring and summer, 2-15 minutes might be enough, during winter, when the sun is lower, we may need up to 2hrs.
It is important to note that the skin should be exposed to the sun during this period. Wearing sunscreen or clothing will not allow the sun's rays to penetrate the skin. Expose your face, hands, and arms when you're in the sun for 5-15 minutes. If you spend longer in the sun, it's wise to use protection, especially if you have fair skin and burn quickly or it's a scorching day when the sun's UV rays are intense.
Sunlight has incredible benefits for physical and mental health. Limited, safe exposure to the sun can make you feel happy, optimistic, and energetic and improve sleep quality. It also has beneficial effects on the body. One of the most important reasons to spend time outside in the sunlight is to boost vitamin D production. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, and it also enhances immunity. Sunlight can also help regulate hormone production and activity and can be used to treat conditions that affect both the body and the mind.
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