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Most discussions about spending time in the sun focus on the adverse effects of sun exposure – wrinkles, premature aging, and skin cancer in particular. The health benefits of sunlight get drowned out in all this noise. This is unfortunate because spending time in the sun offers some powerful health benefits.
So is sunlight good for you or is sunlight bad for you? Let’s answer this million-dollar question before actually diving into the health benefits of sunlight exposure.
The fact is sunlight is good for you in small doses. It’s excessive exposure to sunlight that increases the risk of premature aging, wrinkles, and skin cancer. Moderation is key to enjoying the health benefits of sunlight without the risks.
Getting some sunlight every day has several powerful mental and physical health benefits. Here are a few ways sunlight positively affects your body and brain, and how much sunlight you should get to receive these health benefits.
9 Benefits Of Sunlight Exposure
1. Increases Vitamin D levels
Spending time in the sun is the single best way to build the body’s reserves of this vitamin, which is crucial for overall health and wellbeing.
Exposure to sunlight is the primary way that we get the vitamin D we need. Contrary to common misconception, sunlight itself does not contain this vitamin. Instead, the UV rays in sunlight help the body to make the vitamin. Studies show that UV rays stimulate a substance in the skin, which triggers the production of vitamin D in the body. This research article has an excellent explanation of the health benefits of sunlight and this research article does a deep dive into the synthesis and benefits of vitamin D.
Maintaining adequate amounts of vitamin D is essential for the health of our immune system, bones, and blood cells. It helps the body absorb important minerals such as calcium and phosphorus.
Many people who are deficient in this vitamin take supplements to increase their intake. While this may be necessary in winter, you don’t need to take supplements in spring and summer. During these months, try and spend some time in the sun instead.
Getting your vitamin D from the sun is far better than relying on supplements. Besides, spending time in the sun also offers other benefits as you will see below.
2. Strengthens the immune system
The immune system needs adequate levels of Vitamin D to function efficiently. Low vitamin D levels can compromise immunity, increasing our susceptibility to various illnesses and infections.
Consistent exposure to sunlight increases vitamin D production, which in turn strengthens the immune system and keeps us healthy. The next time you feel a cold coming on, get outside in the sun and soak up some vitamin D to build your immunity.
3. Builds stronger bones
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for bone health. In addition to facilitating calcium absorption, vitamin D also promotes mineralization, which makes bones strong and rigid through the formation of bone matrix.
Insufficient vitamin D in the body softens and weakens bones increasing the risks of fractures and broken bones. Long-term deficiency can also lead to osteoporosis.
Spending some time in the sun regularly can have long-term benefits with regard to bone health and keeping osteoporosis at bay.
4. Boosts mood
This is one of many interesting studies that prove the relation between exposure to sunlight and serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that encourages communication between brain cells and other nervous system cells. It influences various processes, including sleep and eating habits. But it’s best known for its effect on feelings of well-being, stabilization, energy levels, and overall happiness.
Exposure to sunlight boosts serotonin levels. When you have sufficient serotonin in the brain, you feel calm, positive, focused, and happy.
5. Promotes better sleep
One of the more interesting benefits of sunlight is that it helps you sleep better. This may sound strange at first – how does spending time in the morning sun help you sleep better at night?
Studies show that regular exposure to natural sunlight is integral to regulating our internal clock, otherwise known as circadian rhythm. It does this by telling the body when to increase and decrease melatonin levels.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that’s critical for sleep. The body produces this hormone only in the dark. An increase in melatonin levels induces sleepiness, which explains why we tend to feel sleepy an hour or two after sunset. It also explains why we stay up later in summer when the sun sets later in the day.
Sunlight is the main driving force that keeps our circadian rhythm on schedule and influences our behavior based on the time of day. When you get sufficient daylight exposure, the body becomes more efficient at producing melatonin when the sun goes down and it begins to get darker. The higher melatonin levels also slow down brain activity, which helps you sleep better at night.
Just a half-hour of sunshine a day is enough to make the night less restless and wake up feeling more refreshed. Too rushed to get out of the house to catch some rays in the morning? A stroll in the sun during your lunch break can reset your circadian rhythm so you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
6. Reduces stress
There’s nothing more relaxing than the scents, sounds, and sights of the outdoors. Inhaling the fresh scents of flowers and plants around you, listening to the sound of birds chirping and warbling, and watching the bees and butterflies flit from flower to flower…
Time spent outdoors can be immensely calming and relaxing as you take in these many natural wonders. Add sunshine to the mix and you’ll get a powerful recipe for overall health and well-being.
Make it a point to step out every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, to soak in the sunshine and the revel in your natural surroundings. If you can, spend some time barefoot earthing. Also known as grounding, this involves taking off your footwear and letting your body come in direct contact with the natural surface of the earth. Standing barefoot indoors or on a concrete surface doesn’t count. You need to come in direct contact with a natural surface such as grass, earth, or water.
Communing with nature is an effective way to lower stress levels and boost happiness and productivity. Even a half-hour during your lunchtime spent out in the sun can help you feel less stressed and more productive when you return to the office.
7. Improves skin texture
Yes, staying out in the strong noonday sun for an extended time will cause wrinkles and may also lead to skin cancer. But small doses of early morning sunlight are good for you. The gentle rays of the sun in the morning can work wonders for improving complexion and managing some inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. The key here is to get small doses of sunlight and not overdo it.
If you’re heading out in the sun later in the day or you’re going to be spending more than fifteen minutes in the hot sun, you must protect your skin from UV radiation by applying a good, broad-spectrum sunscreen daily with at least an SPF of 30.
8. Increases energy levels
Have you noticed that you feel more energetic during the sunny seasons when the sun is up longer? This is because sunlight sends signals to the brain telling it to be alert and awake. During spring and especially summer our brains are activated more because of the long hours of bright sunshine.
Meanwhile, you feel more lethargic during the colder seasons when the days are long and dark while the sun makes only rare, short appearances.
This difference in energy levels is evident regardless of whether you actually go out in the sunlight or not. Just the duration of light during a 24-hour period can affect your energy. Imagine what getting direct sunlight exposure can do! It elevates your energy to the next level.
9. Keeps SAD at bay
A lot of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or depression in the fall and winter. Lack of sunshine during these months is the main factor that causes this condition.
As we mentioned earlier, sunlight promotes the production and release of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin, also known as the happy hormone, uplifts mood so you feel happier, calmer, and positive.
The opposite happens when you don’t get enough exposure to sunlight. The hypothalamus produces less serotonin, so you’re more likely to experience SAD symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Seasonal depression is more prevalent in fall and winter. During these months, doctors recommend using a SAD lamp to manage the symptoms.
If you use light therapy to manage seasonal depression, you’ll find you don’t need it as the daylight hour’s increase. You may need to continue using your SAD lamp at the beginning of spring but as the sun gets brighter and the days get longer, you’ll need it less and less.
By summer, you won’t need it at all. You can get all the sunshine you need naturally to boost your serotonin levels and keep SAD symptoms at bay.
How Much Sunlight Do You Need To Get The Health Benefits?
There’s plenty of evidence that shows sunlight is good for us in small doses. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence that shows excessive exposure to sunlight is dangerous.
The big question then is – how much sunlight should we get to enjoy the health benefits without experiencing the adverse effects?
According to this study, 10 to 20 minutes in the sun are enough to get the benefits in spring and summer. If you’re dark-skinned you’ll need to spend about 30 minutes in the sun to get the benefits. This is because melanin, which makes the skin darker, also makes it more difficult for the body to take advantage of the sun’s rays.
In winter, you’d need to spend about 2 hours in the sun to get the optimal benefits.
People living in some countries just do not get the sunlight they need in winter, which increases the risk of SAD and other problems. In this case, eating a diet rich in vitamin D and taking supplements can help balance out the lack of sunshine.
6 Tips for getting the benefits of sunlight exposure without the risks
These tips will help you get the maximum benefits of sunlight while minimizing the risk of over-exposure:
1. Get your sunlight early in the day
At sunrise, the sun’s rays are gentle and mild. They get stronger as the day progresses and are strongest around noon. Getting your sunlight exposure early in the day allows you to get the benefits gently without the harmful effects.
2. Avoid the sun altogether at certain times of day
The sun’s rays are strongest around noon and during a couple of hours before and after 12 noon. Staying out in the sun during this time puts you at high risk of dangers associated with UV exposure. It’s best to avoid being out in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
3. Slather on the sunscreen before spending time in the sun
Not everyone can avoid being out in the sun for long hours every day. Whether it’s for work or fun, sometimes you just end up spending long hours in the sun. At times like these, it’s important to protect your skin with a good zinc-based sunscreen.
Sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 acts as an effective barrier against harsh UV rays.
4. Wear long, loose clothing in breathable fabrics
Wearing long sleeves and full trousers acts as another layer of protection against the skin. But you must be careful to choose clothing in breathable fabrics such as cotton, linen or muslin. These fabrics allow perspiration to evaporate easily so you stay dry and cool without becoming overheated.
5. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses
A wide-brimmed hat protects your scalp and the wide brim keeps your ears protected from direct sunlight. Sunglasses are just as important to protect your eyes from the damaging effects of the sun. They also shade the fragile skin around your eyes, preventing premature wrinkling.
6. Remember to stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is just as important as catching those rays during this sunny season. You need to drink enough water or other fluids to replenish what you lose through the heat and perspiration. In addition to being good for overall health, drinking fluids also keeps your skin hydrated and prevents premature aging and wrinkles. 12 Tips To Stay Hydrated & Healthy In Summer and How To Stay Hydrated Without Drinking Water.
If you do get sunburnt because you spent too much time in the sun, this article may help – Home Remedies For Sunburn Relief: Soothe Skin Fast.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before using any natural medication or if you experience any unusual symptoms. See Full Disclaimer here.