Soak Up the Sun! 4 Major Benefits to Getting Outside

sun shining through trees

Spring is officially here – bring on the longer days, warmer weather, and all those beautiful new flower blossoms!

It’s time to shake off the icicles and get out in the sun! Here are four amazing benefits to getting a daily dose of sunlight:

 

Sunlight Gives You A Major Health Boost

You know about vitamin D, which comes from the sun and helps improve bone health, but did you also know that getting sun daily can help lower your blood pressure? A group of researchers at the University of Edinburgh discovered this when they found that a compound called nitric oxide is released into blood vessels when sunlight touches your skin, helping lower your blood pressure. And lower blood pressure means less of a risk for heart attacks or strokes.

But that’s not all! Sun exposure has been shown to boost growth in children, especially infants. It also helps suppress an overactive immune system, which helps treat autoimmune diseases, like psoriasis, and increases the amount of white blood cells in the body, which play a key role in fighting diseases and infections.

And a final note on that vitamin D: a deficiency in this vitamin can increase your risk for certain cancers, especially breast and colon cancers.  Studies have shown that a vitamin D supplement, like a little time in the sun, can produce as dramatic a result as a 60% drop in risk of developing any form of cancer.

 

It Gives You a Mental Boost Too

Vitamin D isn’t just for your bones anymore: a study at the University of Cambridge found that cognitive function was lower in subjects whose vitamin D levels were lower. And other studies have found a link between sunlight and nerve cell growth in the hippocampus a.ka. the part of the brain that forms, organizes, and stores memories.

And if you’ve been feeling a little happier lately, you can thank spring and the sun for that. 6% of Americans – just under 20 million people – suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated as SAD), a form of depression common in winter months when there’s less sunlight. With moderate sun exposure, which is easier to come by in the spring and summer months, natural antidepressants, like serotonin, increase in the brain, which can help relieve SAD and other mild forms of depression.

And the sun’s golden rays become even more effective in our golden years. Clinical research has found that Alzheimer’s patients who get sun exposure throughout the day followed by darkness at night score better on mental exams and some results even show improvements in aspects of the disease, like depression, nighttime wakefulness, agitation, and function loss.

 

The Sun Also Helps You Sleep

One key to a restful night’s sleep is maintaining a normal circadian rhythm, and guess what helps maintain that? If you guessed sun exposure, you’ve been paying attention! Here, have a virtual cookie!

When it gets dark outside, our bodies signal us that it’s getting close to bedtime and begin releasing melatonin, a hormone that makes us drowsy to help us rest. When we’re exposed to sunlight in the morning, our brains’ pineal glands get the message to shut down melatonin production until the sun goes down again.

Contrarily, overproduction and overstimulation throughout the day can cause low productions of melatonin at night, which has been linked to poor sleep quality, especially for older adults. So remember: to get yourself a good night’s sleep, relax and get some sun throughout the day.

 

Oh, And It’s Great for Your Skin

This is where sun exposure can get kind of tricky. On the one hand, regular sunlight promotes the healing of skin disorders like acne, eczema, psoriasis, jaundice, and other fungal skin infections. Of course, if you want to try sun exposure as an alternative treatment for any of these skin issues, you should do so under medical supervision because…

On the other hand, the sun can be harmful to your skin. Melanoma and other skin diseases are very real side effects of too much sun for those with certain skin types, like yours truly. If you’re at a higher risk for developing melanoma, and even if you’re not, experts recommend no more than 15-20 minutes of direct sunlight a day. If you’re out any longer, make sure to apply sunscreen with a minimum of 30 SPF as needed.

 

So now that we’ve talked about all the benefits of that good ole sunshine, what are some of your favorite ways to soak up the sun??

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