The Benefits of the Sun..You Read That Right

Every summer there’s an influx of health articles related to one specific topic; we’ll let you take a second to guess.

A couple clues are skin cancer, burns, SPF. You guessed it, the sun.

While all of these articles are absolutely necessary as skin cancer diagnoses rates are higher than ever, it’s a little disheartening to read about the evils of the sun when some of the best memories can be captured in its rays.

From going to the beach with family, taking the perfect morning walk on a summer morning or finally being able to sit outside and enjoy a meal after months of winter, the sun is kind of like a good friend. It makes you feel warm, welcome and happy.

So just as everything requires balance in life, we’re going to give the sun a good rap with a few explained health benefits:

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Sunlight Can Elevate Your Mood

Studies have shown that sunlight increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a big role in positive moods. Less sunlight means less serotonin, which is why we have the potential to experience things like Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter.

In addition to serotonin, decreased exposure to sunlight also diminishes your levels of Vitamin D, which can contribute to feelings of sadness or anxiety. And that also brings us to our next point…


Vitamin D Production

Your body can get Vitamin D through two methods: your food or sunlight. However, most foods that contain vitamin D only contain small amounts, so getting enough isn’t possible from food alone.

When we receive UV rays from the sun our bodies go through a process with an element in our skin that then converts to Vitamin D to be absorbed in to the blood stream, tissues and organs.

Having the proper amount of vitamin D promotes bone growth and prevents illnesses such as breast cancer, colon cancer and multiple sclerosis.


Improved Sleep

According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, physical, mental, and behavioral changes occur during a 24-hour cycle that are dependent on light and darkness in the body’s environment.

Without the proper exposure to sunlight, the body’s natural rhythms can be thrown off making for restless nights. For example, your office building with no windows and bright fluorescent lighting can actually cause your body to believe it’s nighttime.

Breaking up your day with occasional 5 to 10 minute breaks outside can make a huge difference in your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up at your set time.


Lowered Blood Pressure

A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology states that nitric oxide stored in the top layers of the skin reacts to sunlight and causes blood vessels to widen as the oxide moves into the bloodstream. This reaction then leads to lowered blood pressure.


The Catch

The key to having a healthy balance with the sun, so time spent soaking up rays is beneficial rather than harmful, is taking preventative measures:

– Make sure to always wear SPF, preferably SPF 30 or higher, and nothing below 15.

– Bring a form of cover-up when you’ll be in the sun for extended periods of time. A large beach umbrella, a hat and UV protective clothing are ideal for when you need to seek refuge from direct sun on your skin.

– Tanning beds do provide UV rays, but they don’t provide the benefits associated with natural sunlight due to the artificial nature and extreme intensity of the source of exposure. Remember how we mentioned balance earlier? There’s no balancing this one, just don’t do it.

– Incorporate your sun exposure in to an active and healthy lifestyle rather than being a sun worshipper. Lying out solely to soak up rays will leave you more likely to spend too much time in the direct sun and not reapply protection properly. Going outside for a walk, run or workout class will keep your time in the sun limited and you’ll be covered up to a certain extent. Not to mention you’ll be doing something else beneficial for your body as well!

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Elle Michels

Elle Michels

Based in Washington, D.C., Elle Michels is a contributing writer to Womenshealth.com.