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Shining a light on the health benefits of sunlight

Shining a light on the health benefits of sunlight

Have you ever noticed that many people are in a better mood when summer comes around? There’s a reason for that! You can soak up the health benefits of sunlight this time of year.

During the winter months, sunlight is at a premium. The days feel long, but there are fewer hours of daylight, meaning we may get less sun exposure. That can wreak havoc on your health, even causing a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in some people.

When warmer weather sets in during the spring, many of us yearn to head outdoors! Spending time in the sun just gives us a boost.

How time in the sun benefits your health

You know that spending time in the sun boosts your mood, but what other benefits does it offer? Sun exposure benefits both your physical health and your mental health in multiple ways:

Improved bone health. The ultraviolet rays of the sun help stimulate the production of vitamin D, a vitamin that’s essential for healthy bones. That’s why vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D is needed for the body to properly absorb calcium, and it also plays other key roles in the body. Vitamin D not only is associated with reduced inflammation, but it also regulates the immune system, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Better sleep. Your sleep is heavily impacted by circadian rhythm, a sort of internal clock for your body. Your circadian rhythm is governed by light and darkness, which is why you feel the need to wake in the morning and sleep during the night. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep at night or wake up in the morning, sun exposure right when you wake up can help kick your circadian rhythm into gear. Throw open the window shade to let the sunlight in or take a morning walk in the sun.

Improved mental health. When you’re exposed to sunlight, your mood improves, but your overall mental health can benefit, too. Sunlight improves the body’s levels of serotonin, which can improve symptoms in those who have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. That’s the reason that light therapy is often recommended for treating depression, including SAD.

How to soak up the sun, safely

How can you enjoy the health benefits of sunlight without overexposing your skin to the sun? That’s a great question. While vitamin D production requires exposing your skin to the sun, most benefits from sunlight can be experienced simply from being in the sun or even seeing it.

To stimulate vitamin D production, spend 10 to 15 minutes outside daily without wearing sunscreen. That’s really all that’s needed to produce this essential vitamin. If you’re at a high risk of skin cancer, speak with a University Medical Center New Orleans primary care provider about whether you should take a vitamin D supplement instead.

For the other health benefits of sun exposure, slather on sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and head outside! Your mood and your health will thank you.

Feeling out of sorts? Find out how University Medical Center New Orleans can help with your mental health needs.