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You tend to hear a lot about the dangers of getting too much sunshine. And this is for good reason: Extensive sun exposure can put you at risk for skin damage and even cancer.
But the truth is, there are also lots of amazing health benefits to getting some sunshine. The sun is, after all, the central body of the earth’s solar system. Feeling the sun’s warmth on your skin and soaking in those UV rays is essential to our daily sense of well-being, both physical and mental.
With that said, we’ve outlined 6 benefits of getting sunshine each day. Here goes.
Sunshine is the ultimate, natural mood-lifter
Yep, sunlight actually does make us happy when skies are grey. The sun delivers potent doses of the key neurotransmitter, serotonin, to the body. When sunlight enters our eyes, it activates the parts of our retinas that tell our brain to start producing serotonin. As you’ll see, the amount (or lack) of sunlight one gets on a daily basis can have profound effects on our cognitive function.
Why serotonin matters
Serotonin, to put it simply, is the hormone that makes us feel happy. It stabilizes our feelings of well-being, keeps our anxieties at bay, and makes us mentally sharper.
But it does so much more than that. You see, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates our fundamental behaviors: how we sleep, eat, and digest. Serotonin is what allows brain cells to communicate with each other to perform these functions, kind of like a strong WiFi connection.
Serotonin, sunlight, and depression
Many scientists believe depression is caused by an imbalance or shortage of neurotransmitters in the body, like serotonin. This is why serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a common variety of medication used to treat depression.
Measuring the effect of sunlight on cognitive function, scientists have found that low exposure to sunlight is associated with a ‘significantly higher probability of cognitive impairment.’ This study supports what we all know on a personal level: We tend to feel more blue during the dark winter months, like January and February, when the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Sunlight exposure -- and, in turn, serotonin -- has a direct effect on seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
How much sunlight is enough sunlight?
This answer is different for everyone. In general, scientists recommend anything from 5-30 minutes of mid-day light each day.
It can help heal skin conditions
This benefit comes with a major caveat. You definitely do not want to spend too much time in the sun without sunscreen. From skin damage to melanoma, excessive exposure to UV rays can be harmful to you.
But small and regular doses of sunlight, it turns out, can improve many skin conditions. Doctors have recommended UV radiation exposure to treat eczema, jaundice, and psoriasis. Stanford researchers found that warm temperatures and UV rays stimulate the synthesis of Vitamin D within the body. This causes immune cells to travel to outer layers of the skin, where they can heal and repair skin damage.
It’s great for your heart and can even help you live longer
One study showed that UV rays can directly cause your blood pressure to drop. Turns out, when our skin is exposed to the sun’s rays, a vital substance, nitric oxide, is released into our blood vessels. This substance naturally helps lower blood pressure.
In fact, some scientists have even gone as far as to say that the health benefits of sun exposure far outweigh the potential risks of skin cancer. Heart disease and stroke linked to high blood pressure cause more than 80 times more deaths than skin cancer. Still, this comes with that same caution: wear sunscreen.
It improves your sleep
Sunlight keeps your circadian rhythm in balance by telling your body when to release melatonin, the hormone that regulates what time we go to sleep and wake up. Not surprisingly, lots of people with sleep disorders also take Melatonin as a nightly supplement.
According to this study, the cells in your eyes need a certain amount of natural light each day to get your internal clock running on time. This is especially important with morning sunlight. The more sunlight your eyes get during the morning, the more effectively your body will be able to produce melatonin once the sun goes down and you’re cuddled up in bed.
Oh, and if you’re traveling to another timezone, a natural cure for jet lag is more sunlight. So be sure to step outside of that hotel room for an hour or two and let your body soak in those natural rays.
It boosts the body’s supply of Vitamin D
For a whole host of reasons, people are spending less and less time outside in this day and age. In fact, as of 2012, Vitamin D deficiency affects almost 50% of the population worldwide.
Vitamin D is naturally produced when the sun shines on your skin. A daily, sunny dose of the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ seriously does the body good. Increased Vitamin D is proven to reduce depression, inhibit cancer cell growth, strengthen bones, and help stave off diseases -- everything from multiple sclerosis to the common flu. Researchers have discovered that Vitamin D might also protect against breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer.
It means you’re spending more time outside
And spending more time outside comes with loads of health benefits. Definitively. In a recent study, it was found that folks who spent more time outside in greenspaces lived much healthier and lengthy lives. In this group, there was a reduced incidence of stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and asthma.
Add to that all the other benefits listed above, and getting daily sunshine is key to your long-term health.