The Benefits of Sunlight are Essential to Wellbeing
Although we may like to think there is no such thing as too much of a good thing, this proves to be true in regard to sunlight– you can certainly get too much. But rather than pursuing a Twilight style Edward Cullen moment and avoiding the sun at all costs, don’t forget that the sun brings more than just sunburn into our lives. Sun exposure (in moderation) can reap tremendous benefits for the body and mind. Next time you’re lathering on your SPF, remember the science behind the sun’s superpower to heal and nourish us – because the benefits of sunlight are essential to our wellbeing!
- Sun exposure increases our levels of serotonin, having a direct impact on our moods and circadian rhythm.
- Sunlight (all in moderation) influences our physical health, boosting our immune systems and strengthening our bones, teeth, and skin.
- The World Health Organization recommends at least 5-15 minutes of sunshine several days a week to truly reap the benefits.
4 Benefits of sunlight
We often get told to stay out of the sun due to its direct correlation to wrinkles and skin cancer, among other negative consequences, and while this is all true (and sunscreen should still be a part of your daily skincare ritual), the sun gets an unnecessarily bad rep. Here’s a list of 5 reasons we need the sun every day– in moderation.
1. The sun boosts our mood.
Think about it– sunshine is essentially a synonym for happiness, and it’s most likely because the association is backed by science. The sun’s light– and the absence of it– provoke hormones to be released in our brain. Specifically, exposure to the sun increases serotonin levels, which regulates and mediates satisfaction, happiness, and optimism, so much so that it’s often referred to as the “happy hormone” or the “feel-good” hormone.
Without adequate sun exposure, serotonin levels can take a hit. Low levels of serotonin are correlated with an increased risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that relates to the change in seasons. When the fall and winter months roll around, there are fewer hours of sunlight, meaning less exposure, and thus lower serotonin levels. A study found that the availability of sunlight has a heavier impact on mood than temperature, rain, or any other environmental factor, so don’t underestimate the power of a little vitamin D every day– in the form of a walk, a bike ride, or even just sitting outside.
2. The sun regulates our circadian rhythm.
Just as the presence of sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, the absence of it also triggers the production of melatonin, our “sleep hormone.” Our circadian rhythm is our 24-hour body clock that is cued by exercise, temperature, and social activity, but the biggest factor is light.
On an episode of Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast Feel Better, Live More, his guest, Dr. Andrew Huberman, a professor of neuroscience, highlights that getting your first dose of sunlight within the first 30 minutes to an hour of waking up (and even sooner if possible) can be extremely beneficial by regulating your circadian rhythm for better sleep. Ultimately, the more daylight exposure you get, the more melatonin your body will produce when it’s time to hit the hay. Absorbing the sun’s rays first thing in the morning is a good thing to not only make a priority, but a daily habit that only takes 5-10 minutes in the morning.
3. The sun regulates our skin and bone health.
Although excess sunlight can be a contributor to skin cancers, a fair amount of sunshine can actually help to treat other skin conditions such as eczema, jaundice, acne, and psoriasis according to the World Health Organization– yes, really! UV light helps the healing process of the skin. Additionally, healthy skin starts from within, and sunlight has been shown to lower our blood pressure and enhance our heart health. Don’t be afraid to enjoy the warmth of the sun, as long as you’re cautious about how (and how long) you catch the rays.
Furthermore, sunshine encourages the body to produce more vitamin D, which is crucial for strong bones and healthy teeth. Essentially, this sunshine vitamin enhances the absorption of calcium, and it regulates the calcium deposition in the bones. Vitamin D can be consumed via dietary sources as well, but the majority of vitamin D comes from the sun.
4. The sun boosts our immune systems.
It’s time to give the sun a chance to play doctor, as vitamin D is also critical for our immune system health. With exposure, it can be strengthened to reduce the risk of illnesses and infections. In addition, research has shown that (moderate) sunlight has preventative benefits for colon cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer. Throughout history, the sun has been glorified for its healthful properties and has been used in the context of medicine, and for good reason!
How much is too much?
The answer to such a simple question is anything but simple; the answer really depends on skin tone, age, general health and history, diet, and geographic location; however, according to the World Health Organization, getting anywhere from 5-15 minutes of direct sunlight on your arms, hands, and face at least 3 times a week should be enough to reap the benefits and produce some vitamin D.
Peak hours of sunlight are between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M, which is when you’re most likely to get sunburnt. Regardless of what time you’re planning on soaking up the sunshine, if you’re staying out for longer than 15 minutes, make sure to wear at least SPF 15! Consider your wardrobe, however, because wearing excessive clothing won’t result in the vitamin D production we desire; the rays have to penetrate the skin to let vitamin D do its thing. Additionally, skin sensitivity is a big factor in how long you should be exposed; just make sure not to burn.
We’ve been taught from such a young age that spending too much time in the sun is harmful, as too much exposure can cause wrinkles and sunspots. But UV radiation can have extreme consequences that go far beyond cosmetics, including skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. That being said, I’m emphasizing *again* the importance of incorporating SPF into your daily skincare ritual!
As previously mentioned, the sun is an excellent source of vitamin D, but not the only one. Other sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, as well as egg yolks, cheese, and beef liver. You can also take over-the-counter vitamin D supplements to ensure you’re getting a sufficient amount. As we age, vitamin D production in our skin is reduced by almost 50%, so it can’t hurt to have a supplement on hand for the future!
The sun often gets villainized for some of the problems it causes (that should not be undermined.) While it isn’t all “sunshine and rainbows,” the benefits of sunlight should not be forgotten. Maybe we should all take some advice from Ms. Sheryl Crow and soak up the sun (while wearing sunscreen!), and look forward to what tomorrow’s sunrise will bring!
Written by Morgan Taylor