Have you ever noticed how everyone’s moods seem to lift as we get out of winter and spring starts to set in? As the weather becomes friendlier, many of us start spending more time outdoors again without the cold air hurting our faces. The sun finally comes out and with it comes many health benefits.
How Sunlight Can Affect Our Bodies
The reinvigorated feeling you get after receiving direct sunlight is mostly due to the influx of Vitamin D. Without getting too deep into the biochemistry of it, Vitamin D is one of the 13 essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that the human body needs to thrive.
Vitamin D is unique among these essential micronutrients because, although you can get vitamin D from your diet, it can also be produced from one of your skin’s natural oils. Vitamin D plays several major roles around the body, including calcium absorption and immune health. It is also an anti-inflammatory.
However, as we will see below – the benefits of sunlight don’t end there! Just like every other creature on this planet, humans evolved under sunshine. Even if we now spend most of our time inside, many of our bodily functions still need the rays from the sun to guide them.
Because of this, most health guidelines recommend adults get at least 10 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight at least 3 times a week. The exact amount of sunlight will vary depending on your skin tone, the season, and the region where you live: sun rays are weaker during the winter or the further you are from the Equator.
Six Ways Sunlight Can Boost Your Health
1. Sunshine Improves Your Bone Density
Sunlight and vitamin D are both linked to bone health. Vitamin D plays a role in affixing calcium into your bones. As an adult, this will prevent your bones from becoming brittle – which will prevent fractures as you age. Among children who are still growing, getting plenty of vitamin D will help bones form properly.
2. Sunshine Sets Your Internal Clock Right
Before the age of watches and artificial light, our bodies used sunlight to determine the right time to sleep, eat, and work. This “internal clock” is known as our circadian rhythm, and it plays a major role in our well-being.
Just like jet lag can make for a miserable start to your vacation, so can lack of sunshine. A desynchronized circadian rhythm can cause brain fog in the morning, general fatigue, and problems with sleep.
Direct exposure to sunlight, especially early in the morning, will help set this right: it will help your body start producing melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) a few hours after sunset.
3. Sunshine Helps With Weight Control
Your circadian rhythm also controls your hunger schedule. Just like insomnia is strongly linked with weight gain, early-morning sun exposure can also help you control hunger levels and curb cravings.
Naturally, weight control is a complex topic, as it is influenced by many factors. However, a 2014 study showed that people who got at least 15 minutes of bright sunlight in the morning were likely to have a lower body mass index. This difference persisted even if they slept for the same amount of time as their overweight counterparts.
4. Sunshine Improves Immunity
As we mentioned before, Vitamin D is an important ingredient in adaptive immunity (the way your body responds to microbes going around). Low exposure to sunlight, especially during the winter, seems to bring more frequent infections. For people with autoimmune conditions, like eczema or multiple sclerosis, low sunlight and vitamin D deficiency can cause symptoms to flare up.
5. Sunshine Helps Control Depression
The impact that lack of direct sunlight can have on our mental health is strong enough to deserve its own diagnosis: Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. This condition is more common among people with a family history of depression, and among those who live in very Northern or Southern regions.
However, even people who don’t have full-blown SAD can feel the impact of sunlight in their moods. This is because UV rays seem to play a role in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of comfort and well-being.
6. Sunshine May Help With Skin Conditions
Most of us probably equate “taking care of your skin” with wearing hats and sunscreen on hot summer days. Sunburns can be painful and dangerous – but some sun, in moderation, can help you combat other chronic skin conditions.
Up to 15 minutes of direct sun exposure (depending on your skin tone), three times a week can help you prevent psoriasis, eczema, and vitiligo. In addition, vitamin D is also necessary to help repair skin damage, which can help you erase acne spots a little quicker.
Sunlight Is Health
Just like the earth needs the sun, so do we. There are countless health benefits that the sun has to offer when absorbed in moderation. Protect your skin but be sure to soak up all the benefits that sunshine has to offer on your mental and physical health.