It’s common sense to put on sunscreen when out in the sun. Prolonged and excessive sun exposure over time is the well-know culprit behind a variet of skin cancers.Sunscreen is an essential part of ensuring our skin stays healthy. We’ve known for years about the dangers in failing to practice proper sun safety, namely an increased risk of skin cancer and melanoma, not to mention permanent skin damage and premature wrinkling.
According to family physician Dr. Gerry Schwalfenberg, our efforts to protect ourselves from the sun may have shifted so far in the direction of sun avoidance that we’re actually neglecting to acknowledge an important fact: our bodies need sunlight to produce vitamin D, which is essential to our overall health.
While it may be all true that protection from the sun via applying sunscreen and staying in the shade is a critical practice that maintains our skin’s health, it’s still good to get adequate sunshine once in a while. An ideal dose of sunlight can have mood lifting benefits among others.
Night and Day Exposure Release Different Hormones
Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones.
Exposure to sunlight prompts the body to increase the release of a hormone called serotonin, which has been dubbed “the happiness hormone”. Serotonin release is known for instantly boosting mood and helping a person feel calm, focused and de-stressed.
At night, darker lighting cues another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping a person feel sleepy and go to sleep. It’s the primary reason why many of us feel sleepy at night.
Without enough sunlight exposure, serotonin levels can dip, which can lead to symptoms such as depression, brain-fog (cloudy and/or unclear thought processes), decreased appetite, and inability to focus.
Low levels of serotonin are also associated with a higher risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that is triggered by changing seasons. Those who experience it feel a sudden drop in their already-low serotonin levels during the colder, darker months, as sunlight becomes more scarce.
Besides an uplifting mood boost, there are a number of physical health benefits associated with catching a moderate amount of rays.
Sun Exposure is Beneficial
Lack of vitamin D, which we get a lot of from sun exposure, leads to rickets, osteoporosis, osteomalacia and other bone diseases. In addition, research has shown that vitamin D deficiency and sunlight deprivation also lead to many cancers, heart disease and multiple additional adverse diseases, conditions and symptoms.
Now, as the world has modernized, the population is moving indoors, and even in the areas that are sunny throughout the year, sunlight exposure and vitamin D deficiency is increasing, both in rural and urban populations. The bones become so weakened without regular sun exposure, that the slightest pressure or trauma may cause fractures.
The importance of the sun in maintaining and producing strong bones has been known since ancient times. Dr. Richard Hobday, author of “The Healing Sun”, writes the following comments along with a history in an online article.
Traditionally, sunlight deprivation has been linked with weak or brittle bones. One of the earliest references to this was made more than two thousand years ago by the Greek historian Herodotus (480-425 BC), who noted a marked difference between the remains of the Egyptian and Persian casualties at the site of battle of Pelusium which took place in 525 BC:
‘At the place where this battle was fought I saw a very odd thing, which the natives had told me about. The bones still lay there, those of the Persian dead separate from those of the Egyptian, just as they were originally divided, and I noticed that the skulls of the Persians were so thin that the merest touch with a pebble will pierce them, but those of the Egyptians, on the other hand, are so tough that it is hardly possible to break them with a blow from a stone. I was told, very credibly, that the reason was that the Egyptians shave their heads from childhood, so that the bone of the skull is indurated by the action of the sun — this is why they hardly ever go bald, baldness being rarer in Egypt than anywhere else. This, then, explains the thickness of their skulls; and the thinness of the Persian’s skulls rests upon a similar principle: namely that they have always worn felt skull -caps, to guard their heads from the sun.’
Benefits of Sun Exposure
One of the amazing things sunlight provides for us is vitamin D. Sunlight triggers our body to produce this essential vitamin. It usually only requires about thirty minutes of sunlight a day to acquire a minimum dose. Vitamin D is important for the creation and maintenance of bones among many other benefits.
Plants have specific organs in their cells that convert sunlight to energy through a process known as photosynthesis. A plant will capture the suns rays in a chloroplast through a chemical reaction and this conversion gives plants the ability to supply calories to all life. Most of us can remember learning this in high school.
In this way, sunlight provides the source of food for all life on earth.
Lowers Blood Pressure
A group of researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that a compound called nitric oxide that helps lower blood pressure is released into the blood vessels as soon as sunlight touches the skin. This finding was important because until then it was thought that sunlight’s only health benefits to humans was to stimulate production of vitamin D.
Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology, confirmed this fact by finding that sun exposure can not only improve health, but also prolong life. That’s because the benefits of lower blood pressure include cutting risk of heart attacks and strokes. If you or anyone you know suffer from high or unstable blood pressure, a few minutes in the sun can help lower blood pressure and make you feel better almost instantly.
Improves Brain Function
Aside from promoting bone health and regulating vital calcium levels, scientists have now linked vitamin D with a number of functions throughout the body, including the functioning of the brain.
One study led by neuroscientist David Llewellyn of the University of Cambridge, assessed vitamin D levels in more than 1,700 men and women from England, aged 65 or older and found that cognitive function reduced the lower the subjects’ vitamin D levels were. While this theory may not be concrete proof of a direct effect that vitamin D may have on brain function, it does establish a link between the two.
Adding a little sunshine to your life by getting outside more can relieve anxiety and reduce depression, as well as welcome a myriad of positive health benefits to your body.
If you live in higher latitudes with little sunlight, a light box may provide some mood-boosting benefits. From treating skin conditions to strengthening bones, to lifting mood and lowering blood pressure, the sun is truly one of the most beneficial enforcers towards our general health.
It’s important to keep in mind that prolonged direct sun exposure is number one cause of skin cancer, so moderation with sun exposure is key for receiving the sun’s many health benefits and avoiding skin cancers from developing. Experts recommend no more than 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight daily for a healthy adult. After that, apply sunscreen with a minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30.
Remember skin color, where you live and how much skin you expose to the sun affect how much vitamin D you can produce as well as how much exposure your skin can handle until it starts to burn.