Despite what we were told as kids, sunlight is not something we should be afraid of. Most American kids remember getting slathered head-to-toe with sunscreen at the pool because their mom was afraid they would get skin cancer if there was any section of skin left exposed. And there is some validity to this—tanning beds are a big no-no and and it’s true that you’re raising your risk for cancer if you get sunburned a lot. However, our culture seems to have become so afraid of getting skin cancer that we’ve denied ourselves the many health benefits that unfiltered sunlight has to offer.
As with anything we put in or on our bodies, sunlight should be used in moderation. It’s not healthy to lock yourself away in a dark room and it’s also not healthy to get burned to a crisp on a regular basis. But a little sunlight goes a long way!
Spending time in nature actually used to be a treatment for severe diseases like tuberculosis. Historically, some doctors would prescribe “sunlight” for patients who were ill and often that treatment worked! Before modern medicine, doctors knew that some things like fresh air, sunlight, and communing with nature would help uplift the spirit and heal the body, even though they didn’t necessarily understand the reasons behind it. Now, we know that there is actual science behind why our bodies love the sun so much!
1. Prevent Disease
I’m sure you’ve heard that when your skin is exposed to direct sunlight your body synthesizes vitamin D. And this is true. People who live in sun-scare places like Russia and other countries near the top of the globe are more likely to be vitamin D deficient than those who live near the equator, and they must get that vitamin through diet and supplementation.
Even in America, where we have access to sunlight and nutritious food, vitamin D is still a very common deficiency, along with magnesium, vitamin B12, and iron. But fortunately, getting enough vitamin D doesn’t have to cost you a dime, just step outside in the summer time!
If you’re a fair-skinned person then you only need to spend about 15 minutes in the sunlight without sunscreen on in order to get 10,000 units of Vitamin D (which meet your body’s daily requirement). If you have darker skin you may need about 20 minutes of sun expose to get the same effect.
Why is Vitamin D so important? A deficiency of this vitamin is a risk factor for problems like osteoporosis, heart disease, depression, insomnia, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon.
If you don’t get much sun, you can also supplement Vitamin D in the form of a pill or liquid under the tongue, but consult a doctor before you do so. Unlike vitamins B and C, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so you can get experience toxicity (essentially a “vitamin over-dose) by supplementing too much of it. But it is worth noting that you cannot get Vitamin D toxicity from spending too much time in the sun! You body knows how much it needs and it will adjust accordingly.
2. Get Better Sleep
In a previous post called “Why Can’t I sleep? Insomnia Hacks Part 1” I briefly explained how the circadian rhythm (your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle) works. If you don’t sleep well, it’s possible that your circadian rhythm is off track and your mind has a harder time knowing what it needs to shut down for the night.
If you have this problem it’s a good idea to get outside as soon as possible in the morning, especially if it’s sunny out. When the sunlight hits your eyes, it sends a signal to the brain to stop producing melatonin, the chemical that makes you sleepy. The lack of melatonin floating around will make you feel more awake and alert. Over time, getting exposure to sunlight in the morning will train your brain to know when it’s daytime and when it’s sleepy-time, so insomnia may start to fade away.
3. Improve Mental Health
Being out in nature has a remarkable impact on your mental health. No, I’m not saying that all mental health problems can be cured by a little fun in the sun, but exposure to some rays really can really help your mind relax and unwind without the need for alcohol, a TV screen, or medications.
Many cases of depression are exacerbated by both vitamin D deficiency and sleep deprivation, and as you just read in the points above, sunlight can help take care of those problems.
Expose to the sun also has an uplifting effect on your mood and you are more likely to engage in some kind of physical activity when you’re outside. Physical activity is linked to improved depression and anxiety.
If you’re suffering with anxiety or attention problems, a stroll in the sun can get you away from the constant barrage of E-mails, texts, Tweets, voicemails, and commercial ads that we’re doused with all day every day. Many people discover that their mind starts to “quiet” once they step into nature and they can become more focused in the moment.
So there you go. Now that you know some of the wonderful things that sunlight can do for your body and mind, what are you waiting for? I recommend going full-on-reptile and finding some nice rock to bask on in the sun. But, it doesn’t matter how you get your sunlight every day, as long as you get it.
Em the Silver Spoonie