New blog – you may remember in my blog post about improving or maintaining your mental health that I mentioned sunshine and exposure to it is a vital component in maintaining your wellbeing. So for the subject of this blog I thought I’d give a bit more detail about why that is. If you’ve not yet had a chance to read my blog about improving or maintaining your mental health you can find it here.
The first point to make though before I move on to the benefits of increased sunshine is that I do fully recognise the risks of skin cancer. So do make sure you wear adequate sun screen before soaking up the rays if it’s a particularly hot day!
But (assuming you’re adequately protected) what is so great about sunlight?
Well sunshine brings lots of different benefits to us. I’ve chosen here to highlight five of the best:
Sunshine helps us sleep:
Regular readers will know that I’ve talked more than once about how vitally important a good night’s sleep is to our mental wellbeing. The great thing about regular exposure to sunlight is that it can help us get a good sleep! Sunlight helps regulate something called your circadian rhythm which is basically the internal body clock we all have which tells us when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Exposing your body to bright natural sunlight will tell your body that it’s daylight and it will set your circadian rhythm accordingly. Studies in the USA by the national institutes of health have shown that getting an hour of natural sunlight in the morning will make sure you sleep better at night as by the time that night comes your body will have increased its production of melatonin (the hormone that sends you to sleep). A top tip for adjusting to a new time zone if you’re traveling is to expose yourself to the morning sun at the first available opportunity because this will help your body quickly reset its body clock.
Sunshine can help you lose weight!
One of the surprising benefits that I came across when researching the effects that sunlight has on us is the fact that it can help us to lose weight (something which I know many are focussed on achieving). Recent studies have taken place which have demonstrated that adults who get regular exposure to sunlight early in the day will have a lower body mass index (i.e. weight) than those with similar lifestyles who don’t get the same level of exposure to the sun. This is despite those taking part in the studies doing the same amount of exercise and having the same intake of calories. Effectively what the research discovered was that increased exposure to sunlight in the mornings helped increase people’s metabolisms and so they shed weight more easily as a result.
Sunshine can help relieve the symptoms of depression:
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition that is gaining more awareness by the day and is often treated with light therapy now as a result (light therapy is basically exposing people to sunlight). However, even if you don’t suffer with SAD sunshine can still bring the same benefits to you as it does to sufferers of SAD. Exposure to sunlight helps increase your bodies natural production of serotonin (which is a chemical used to regulate your bodies mood). Indeed, serotonin is exactly the chemical that most anti-depressants target as they seek to increase the amount in your body. So getting a boost of serotonin naturally is definitely a good thing! Having increased levels of serotonin can also help reduce the amount of anxiety you experience so if you’re suffering with either or both of anxiety and depression than going for an hour’s walk in the morning when the sun is out will certainly help you a lot over time 🙂 I’ve been trying this myself over the last couple of weeks and I can feel the improvement in my mood so it does work!
Sunshine helps strengthen your bones:
Exposure to sunshine produces vitamin D which helps your body to absorb calcium. Calcium is vital to the health of your bones. This helps make them less brittle and less likely to break which has got to be a bonus! Especially now we’re given to living longer. Regular exposure to sunlight in young children can also help reduce the risk of children developing rickets or bone-wasting diseases like osteoporosis and osteomalacia so make sure you take your kids out with you when you’re enjoying the sunshine! Playing outside (under the appropriate supervision of course) will definitely bring them some health benefits.
Sunshine can help prevent cancer:
Sunshine can’t cure cancer (yet) and has been accused of causing skin cancer but did you know that it can actually help reduce the risks of developing other types of cancer such as colon cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, ovarian cancer, pancreatic and prostate cancer. This again is due to the benefits that increased levels of vitamin D can have. Weirdly the same effects aren’t seen to the same extent by taking vitamin D supplements which may be down to your way your body ingests the supplements. So don’t think that taking supplements is an adequate substitute for sunshine!
So what stops you?
So now I’ve highlighted the benefits that spending time in the sun can bring you and your family each day what’s stopping you from getting out there? Research by Harvard scientists estimates that as many as one billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D. So make sure you get out there and boost your vitamin D levels. You can improve your physical fitness at the same time by exercising outdoors (maybe a morning jog?) and increase the levels you socialise with others by saying hello to those you meet on your route (especially if you stick to the same routine every day). So give it a go and feel free to let me know how you get on 🙂