Three Reasons Why Sunlight is Good for You

I am a sun lover. When it is bright and sunny outside (and when I can actually get out of the hospital for a break!), my worries lighten and life seems more enjoyable. Quite the opposite is true of my mindset when the skies are full of neverending blankets of clouds…Sure, if it's an isolated rainy day, a romantic urge to curl up inside and read an engrossing book will likely arise. But if the rainy days persist without a hint of sun, my emotions start to turn on me, and my perspective becomes quite morose and somber. 

Why is it that our emotions are often so dependent on the weather? The simple explanation is that we evolved to be creatures of the light.

1. Sunlight exposure allows our bodies to produce vitamin D, an essential hormone (that's right, not a vitamin but a hormone!) for bone and immune strength.

Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is rampant among the U.S. population, likely because most of our jobs require us to stay inside during most of the day. Low vitamin D has been linked to multiple diseases, including osteoporosis, autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, and depression. While oral supplementation can aid in treatment of vitamin D deficiency, the best way to produce it is through sunlight exposure.

2. Sunlight exposure also has an effect on a gland in the brain called the pineal gland.

Adequate day exposure to sunlight allows the pineal gland to produce melatonin at night and helps keep our circadian rhythms in line.  In other words, a healthy dose of sunlight can improve your sleep!

3. Sunlight has also been shown to be involved in the release of other hormones in the brain, specifically serotonin.

Serotonin is the hormone thought to regulate mood and induce happy states. People with depression have been found to have low serotonin levels. In fact, the action of the major medication class used for depression, called the SSRIs ('Selective S'srotonin Uptake Inhibitors') involves increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain to improve mood. Sunlight has been shown to increase serotonin levels, so why not try a healthy dose of sunlight to improve your mood!

How do we find the time we need in the sun, especially if we work indoors all day?

A friend of mine recently enlightened me to her solution: regular mini-breaks throughout the day for a short walk outside. Ever since I was in my clinical years of medical school I seemed to have forgotten the concept of breaks. I would work to the point of exhaustion so that I could get everything I needed to get done for the day, and then by the time I left work it was dark. Since taking her advice (in addition to taking a daily vitamin D supplement), I've felt much happier and healthier. 

Here are a few additional tips for getting the sun you need:

  • Take regular walking breaks
  • Eat lunch outside, weather permitting
  • Take up a hobby that involves being outside, even if only done on the weekends! Gardening, anyone?
  • Find excuses to exercise outside. Even if running or biking isn't your thing, take your yoga mat or kettle bells to the yard or porch.
  • Read outside with a glass of your favorite drink
  • If you live in a location where winters make the days short and gloomy, try buying a sunlamp and expose yourself to it 15 minutes a day.
  • Of course, make sure you protect your skin, especially if it's prone to burn, by applying sunscreen. 

So now that you hopefully have gained some inspiration from my article, I think I've had enough sitting inside. Cheerio!