The sun is an incredible source of energy and life, providing warmth and nourishment for all living things. It’s also a natural mood booster that can help improve your overall health and wellbeing. While most people know that sunlight is necessary for the production of vitamin D, there are many other benefits to getting outside and soaking up some rays. Keep reading to uncover 5 different benefits of natural sunlight that you might not know about!
1. Improved Mood
I don’t know about you, but we always feel happier when the sun is out (and we aren’t just saying this because we live in the Sunshine State!). In fact, sunlight exposure is linked to an increase in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, and appetite. Serotonin is aptly nicknamed the ‘happiness hormone,’ as it is linked to feelings of happiness and well-being. Research has also found this hormone to help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
2. Enhanced Immune System
It’s pretty common knowledge that sunlight is essential to the production of vitamin D. The sun’s UV rays interact with the protein 7-DHC, which is found in the skin, to create vitamin D3. Over time, humans have derived most of their vitamin D from the sun—that’s why for people living in areas of little sunlight (Scandinavia, for example) need to ensure they are supplementing their vitamin D.
But, what does vitamin D do in our bodies? Vitamin D helps boost your immune system—exposure to natural sunlight also increases the production of white blood cells and energizes T cells which help fight infection and disease. The immune-boosting properties of sunlight are essential for overall health and wellbeing.
3. Improved Bone Health
Another benefit of sunlight’s vitamin D production is its ability to help the body absorb calcium and maintain strong bones. Individuals who were exposed to more natural sunlight had higher levels of vitamin D and better bone mineral density. In older adults who are more prone to broken bones, vitamin D supplementation—from sunlight exposure—can reduce the risk of hip fractures. If you look at it this way, sunlight actually makes us healthier and stronger!
4. Better Sleep
As we know, sleep is important for your overall health and wellbeing. Your body’s sleep-wake cycle is controlled by the circadian rhythm and the hormone melatonin, which is influenced by sunlight. The natural light from the sun triggers your body to feel awake and alert—just 30 minutes of sun in the morning can help you feel alert and ready to take on the day. Throughout the day, sunlight can help keep this cycle in sync, making it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up feeling rested in the morning. Research has found that natural sunlight exposure is associated with better sleep quality and decreased daytime sleepiness. Additionally, it has found to be helpful in improving sleep quality and duration in individuals with insomnia.
5. Weight Loss
Last but not least, sunlight can potentially aid in weight loss efforts by influencing our body at a cellular level. A recent study out of the University of Alberta revealed that when sun penetrates our skin, it can reduce the storage of fat in our cells. Remember how the sun also helps regulate melatonin? Well, melatonin not only influences our sleep-wake cycle but also plays a role in controlling our appetite. By regulating our melatonin levels, sunlight exposure can help manage cravings and promote a controlled appetite. Additionally, sunny days encourage outdoor activity, getting people up and moving. Even just going for a twenty minute walk a day can make a difference to your physical health. While sunlight alone is not a weight loss solution, incorporating regular outdoor activities and sun exposure into a well-balanced lifestyle can contribute positively to overall weight management efforts.
Sneaky toxicity in sunscreen
While sunscreen is widely recommended and used to protect our skin from harmful UV rays, some concerns have been raised about its potential harmful effects. One primary concern is the presence of certain chemical ingredients in sunscreens, like oxybenzone and octinoxate—in 2021, the Food and Drug Administration proposed that 12 other common sunscreen ingredients are not generally safe. These chemicals have been shown to be absorbed into the bloodstream—while the significance of this absorption is still under study, there are concerns about potential long-term health impacts. Certain ingredients can also cause skin irritation or allergies.
In addition to being harmful to our bodies, some sunscreens are dangerous to the environment. When you wear sunscreen and go in water, the product runs-off into the water system. Oxybenzone and octinoxate, just as they are harmful to bodies, are harmful to marine ecosystems, and have been found to contribute to coral bleaching and damage coral reefs. These chemicals can disrupt coral symbiosis, inhibit coral growth, and negatively affect marine life. The presence of nanoparticles in some sunscreen formulations may have adverse effects on aquatic organisms.
As with any product, it’s essential to carefully read and understand the ingredients in sunscreens and consider alternatives such as mineral sunscreens to mitigate potential risks. Striking a balance between protecting our skin from UV damage and being mindful of sunscreen ingredients is crucial to ensure overall health and environmental well-being.
Practice safe sun exposure
The body does need sun rays – just like with anything, consume in moderation. It’s important to be mindful of the risks associated with excessive and chronic sun exposure, such as skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer. Below are our tips for protecting your skin and eyes from harmful UV rays:
- Wear sunglasses that block 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Look for sunglasses with labels that specifically state they provide this level of protection.
- Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, neck, and ears.
- Seek shade during the peak hours of the day, which are typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Apply a reef-safe, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to all exposed skin, including your face, neck, and ears. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if you are swimming or sweating. (But be mindful of what chemicals it contains!)
- Use caution near reflective surfaces, such as water, snow, and sand, which can increase your exposure to UV radiation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hot for you to get sunburned—you can get burned even when skiing or snowboarding due to the reflective nature of snow and ice!
- Keep in mind that UV rays can penetrate clouds, so it’s important to protect your skin even on cloudy days.
By finding a healthy balance and taking steps to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays, we can reap the many benefits of natural sunlight for our health and well-being. From improving your mood and immune system to promoting better sleep and bone health, there are many reasons to enjoy the sun’s rays—but make sure you are doing so in a safe and healthy way! So why not take a break and enjoy some time in the great outdoors today?