Photo Credit: Aaron Burden

Here are 5 reasons why sunlight is good for you

Those of us living in states located north of America’s Sunbelt are quite familiar with that glorious feeling of welcoming warmer, sunny days once spring rolls around. After a long, cold winter requiring warm clothing, often hazardous driving conditions and shorter daylight hours, it can feel rejuvenating and downright freeing to once again experience trees blooming, birds chirping and warm sunshine. These first lovely signs of spring cue our brains that it’s time to trade our layered, long-sleeved clothing and boots for shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops! And just like some animals hibernate during the winter months, we humans have a propensity to hibernate too.

Come mid-May, while some of us living in the Rocky Mountain region may still experience a random snowstorm here and there, the weather does typically begin to get consistently warmer. When spring arrives, neighbors and community residents noticeably begin emerging from their homes—spending more time outdoors, tidying up the yard, gardening, walking, etc. And everyone just seems to be in a better mood. Well, there’s a reason for that. It turns out, that getting outside to enjoy fresh air and a little bit of sunlight is very beneficial for your health. Unfortunately, most of us have been conditioned to lather up with sunblock the moment we step into the sun. That’s because we often hear more about the risks associated with sun exposure. While it’s true that too much sun exposure on skin can be unhealthy, leading to damaging sunburns and skin cancer, studies have shown that moderate sun exposure can have significant health benefits.

According to research performed at the UK’s University of Manchester, exposure to sunlight is important because it is (for most people) a primary source of Vitamin D, and Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a growing problem, not only in the UK but also in the U.S. Scientists at the university recommend daily sun exposure of 10-15 minutes for fair-skinned people (25-40 minutes for people with darker skin), and even indicate that it is essential for human health and well-being.

Whether you take your dog for a walk, take advantage of a sun-filled day while enjoying a sensational spring hike, or simply sit outside in your back yard for 10 minutes to soak in some rays, consider the following ways in which your health and well-being can benefit from a little bit of sunlight each day.


Maintain Strong, Healthy Bones

Vitamin D benefits the body in a myriad of ways including bone health, healthy blood cells and helping to boost your immune system. Perhaps one of the most well-known and studied benefits of Vitamin D is its impact on bone health. This key nutrient helps with the absorption of important minerals such as calcium and phosphorus—both crucial for strong, healthy bones. According to The Nutrition Source, a publication for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, studies have shown that low Vitamin D levels have been linked to increased risk of fractures among older adults. But how is Vitamin D connected to sun exposure? The sun’s UV rays help the body produce more Vitamin D and even just spending a small amount of time (roughly 10-15 minutes a day) in the sun can help naturally increase this essential nutrient in the body.


Helps Strengthen the Immune System

In addition to its crucial role in maintaining healthy bones, Vitamin D is also essential for supporting a healthy immune system. According to a scientific study published in the Journal of Inflammation Research, via the National Library of Medicine, Vitamin D has recently been found to play a key role in inhibiting inflammatory cells found not only in acute viral infections but also in chronic inflammatory diseases such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and chronic kidney disease. Such research has led scientists to draw a correlation between Vitamin D’s role in helping to prevent the development of autoimmune diseases, which according to research by the Global Autoimmune Institute, are driven by chronic inflammation; as well as boosting the body’s natural ability to defend against infectious disease such as seasonal flu and the common cold. If you’re really connecting the dots at this point, is it any wonder that colds and seasonal flu are much more prevalent during the winter months? That’s because Vitamin D levels (especially in northern regions where it’s colder) are lowest in the winter when there is less sunshine…or in the case of sunny Colorado, when we tend to spend less time outdoors because of colder temperatures. And while you can consume foods that are naturally rich in Vitamin D3, (fatty fish and fish liver oils are the best sources and smaller amounts are found in cheese, beef liver and egg yolks), often the easiest and best way to get adequate Vitamin D is by spending time outside in the sunshine.


Improved Emotional Health

Scientific research shows that sunlight can boost a chemical in the brain called serotonin—a chemical that increases energy while simultaneously helping the mind stay positive and calm. According to research at Brigham Young University, sunshine can have a big impact on mental health and that’s because researchers have found that increased sunlight exposure can help uplift your mood overall. Scientists in the study found that during the time of year (winter) when there are less daylight hours, individuals are more susceptible to emotional distress resulting in an increased demand for therapeutic services. Needless to say, sunlight exposure can improve symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD).


Helps Support Better Sleep

According to an article published on VeryWell Health, spending about an hour in natural sunlight in the morning, can help you sleep better at night. But how? Our bodies naturally produce a hormone called melatonin, which is essential to helping us sleep. When our bodies are exposed to sunshine, the amount of melatonin our bodies produce decreases. Therefore, sunshine helps regulate your circadian rhythm. This explains why most humans (and animals) are awake during daylight hours and begin to feel tired after the sun goes down. The darkness of night is when our bodies are supposed to produce more melatonin to help us sleep. Ever noticed how well you sleep at night after a long day spent playing in the sun? In theory, it’s because the more daylight sun exposure you have, the better your body will produce melatonin at night for a better night of sleep.


Lowers Blood Pressure

Once again, increased Vitamin D levels in the body due to regular moderate exposure to sunlight is linked to good health…this time in the form of heart health. According to an article published by the Mayo Clinic, Vitamin D appears to keep the lining of blood vessels flexible and healthy, helping to regulate blood pressure. Studies have shown that when an individual has low Vitamin D, their arteries can become stiff, which makes it harder for blood to flow. Although the research about Vitamin D and heart health has been mixed, the same article published by the Mayo Clinic concludes that low levels of Vitamin D could make a person likelier to have high blood pressure and diabetes—both risks factors for heart disease.

It’s evident that soaking up a little bit of sunlight can have numerous positive effects on the body. And, before anyone exclaims that this advice is irresponsible or dangerous…please note, we are NOT suggesting that folks hangout in the sun without sunscreen for long periods of time. Sunburns and skin cancer are, of course, very real threats. We recommend following the advice of the National Institutes of Health, which states that a short 10-15 minutes a day could offer significant health benefits. If you’re planning on an extended amount of time outdoors in the sunshine however, (a day at the beach or a long day of hiking for example), it’s obviously crucial to take steps to protect your skin from over-exposure. Layer on a good sunscreen with at least 30 SPF, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and if you’re looking for even more shade for your face, a hat is always a great idea! Hint: You can find a stylish Adventum Colorado Trucker Hat here!

Happy Spring…now get outside and explore more!  ~ KM

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