We all need a little sunshine in our lives, quite literally. So now that the warmer weather is here, let’s take a look at all the good things sunlight does for us, both mentally and physically.
The sun’s rays have received something of a bad rap in recent years, especially here in New Zealand. Yet the truth is that without it, we simply couldn’t survive. And, let’s face it, we wouldn’t even be here in the first place.
Yes, from helping plants to grow to keeping us warm, sunlight is an absolute essential for life. Not to mention a welcome feeling on the skin, and a positive health boon too. But before we delve into just how sunlight is beneficial to our overall health and wellness, let’s tackle the big elephant in the room – our modern-day aversion to it.
Sunlight and skin cancer
The general awareness that too much exposure to UV radiation can cause skin cancer has prompted many of us to be cautious about how much time we spend in the sun, and with good reason.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand with around 82,000 cases per year1. In fact, our skin cancer rates are now the highest in the world – with melanoma occurrences around four times higher than those of the US, UK and Canada.
Even more shockingly, research suggests that two in three New Zealanders will develop some form of non-melanoma skin cancer during their lifetime.1
The health benefits
Of course, skin cancer is a major concern for Kiwis, and should be taken seriously. That said, just as it’s important to protect against the harmful effects of exposing ourselves to too much sun, getting too little can also be an issue for our overall health and wellness. Indeed, sunshine has a lot of benefits for us from a scientific perspective. It’s really all about balance.
With this in mind, let’s take a sunnier outlook on some of the amazing things a little sunlight can bring into your life:
1. Keeps your bones strong
Vitamin D helps your body maintain its calcium levels, to keep your bones healthy and muscles working well, among other things. And although you can include Vitamin D in your diet, the easiest way to top up is simply by spending time outside. That’s because protein in your skin produces Vitamin D naturally when exposed to sunlight – around 15 minutes a day, 3 times a week is often enough. So soaking up a little sunshine could be just what you need.
2. Strengthens your immune system
Vitamin D is also vital for a healthy immune system, and a healthy dose of sunlight only goes towards helping that happen. The result? It reduces your risk of illness and infection – including other cancers such as prostate and colon cancer - and can also help to lower your blood pressure. Good news all round, then.
3. Improves your sleep
Sunlight helps to regulate your levels of serotonin and melatonin, both of which are critical to setting your circadian rhythms and helping you get a good night’s sleep. In fact, you may even notice a difference in your sleep patterns between winter and summer. That’s because your body starts to produce melatonin when it gets dark, so you usually start to feel sleepier a couple of hours after the sun sets.
4. Reduces your stress levels
Serotonin time again. Sunlight is believed to increase the brain’s release of this vital hormone, usually associated with boosting your wellbeing and helping you feel calm and more focused. Plus of course, if you’re outside in the daylight then the chances are you’ll be more active, and all that extra exercise can help to reduce your stress levels and improve your mood further. Talking of which…
5. Improves your mood
Increasing your exposure to natural light may also help to stave off depression and ease any symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – the change in mood that can often occur during winter when daylight hours are at a premium. Indeed, one recent study suggests that the lower your Vitamin D levels, the higher your risk of depression.2
6. Helps you maintain a healthy weight
Believe it or not, some research has suggested that getting a 30-minute dose of sunlight in the morning can even help you lose weight. Of course, exercise could again be a factor here, but another study also found a link between a certain wavelength in sunlight and its effect on adipose or fatty tissue in the body.3 Perhaps another reason to say ‘Good morning, sunshine.’
7. Helps you live longer
It has also been suggested that getting enough Vitamin D in your daily routine can help you live longer. A study of 30,000 Swedish women found that those who spent more time in the sun lived anywhere between 6 months to 2 years longer than those with less sun exposure.4
So you see, getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D can have plenty of positive effects on your mind and body, but please be sensible. It really is all about balance. If you’re outside, make sure you’re wearing some kind of UV protection, and try not to stay out too long – or you may just end up getting burned.