With the current surge of Covid-19 cases in the country, it can be very tempting to just coop up indoors. But according to a recent study, staying under the sun can improve your mental health. Learn about the different benefits of sun exposure here.
Even before the pandemic, most of our waking hours are spent inside with artificial lighting conditions and reduced sunlight exposure. This practice has further intensified when we are advised to stay indoors to avoid getting Covid-19.
This kind of lifestyle disconnects us from our circadian rhythms, leading to a decline in our mood and poor sleep quality.
It is understandable that we want to limit our time outdoors during this period. However, we should not neglect getting some sunshine, as it can help us stay healthy — physically and even mentally.
Study: Sun exposure helps improve mental health
According to a recent study of over 500,000 people, sun exposure helps reduce symptoms of depression and improves a person’s mood.
The results of the study revealed that each additional hour spent outdoors during the day was associated with lower odds of developing mental illnesses like lifetime major depressive disorder, reduced antidepressant usage, less frequent anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure), less frequent low mood, greater happiness and lower neuroticism.
According to Psychology Today, daytime light exposure may improve mood by correcting abnormal circadian timing. Beyond its effects on our internal clock, the authors of the study predicted that daytime sunshine may influence areas of the brain involved in the regulation of emotions.
Benefits of sun exposure
We’ve heard a lot of talk about how the sun’s rays can be harmful to our skin. But did you know that daily sun exposure also has a lot of benefits?
It improves our mood
Don’t you feel happier when you go for a quick morning walk or just spend quiet time in the great outdoors?
As revealed in the research, spending time outdoors can definitely boost our moods and help prevent symptoms of depression. One of the possible causes is because exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin.
Serotonin is associated with boosting a person’s mood and helping him feel relaxed and focused. The absence or lack of sun exposure can cause your serotonin levels to dip, which puts you at a higher risk for major depression with seasonal pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD).
It helps build strong bones
The sun is also our best source of vitamin D, a nutrient that is essential to building bones. Exposure to sunlight can also help produce vitamin D in the body.
When our skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. Vitamin D is responsible for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, minerals that are needed to maintain strong and healthy bones.
In fact, vitamin D deficiency in the body can lead to serious illnesses like osteoporosis, rickets, cancer and muscle weakness.
It helps prevent cancer
While excessive sun exposure may put you at risk for skin cancer, a previous study revealed that people who live in areas with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have some specific cancers than those who live where there’s more sun during the day.
These cancers include colon cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
It strengthens the immune system
Even during these times, experts stress on the importance of spending time outdoors to help boost our immunity.
One of the main benefits of sun exposure is the production of vitamin D, which enhances the function of immune cells, including T cells and macrophages, that protect your body against pathogens.
In fact, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with increased susceptibility to infection, disease, and immune-related disorder. It was also linked to decreased lung function, which may have an effect on your body’s ability to fight respiratory infections.
When is the best time to stay outdoors?
Despite the benefits of sun exposure mentioned above, we still cannot ignore the fact that too much sun exposure can also put you at risk for some diseases like heat stroke and skin cancer. Not to mention staying outside during a pandemic can also increase our exposure to Covid-19.
So to reap only the benefits and avoid the risks, let’s be smart about how we spend time outdoors, under the heat of the sun.
According to Healthline, the best time to get sunlight is in midday, when the UVB rays are most intense. This means you need less time under the sun to get the adequate amount of vitamin D.
Moreover, studies show that the body is most efficient at making vitamin D at noon. Midday or morning sunlight is also safer. Research says afternoon sun exposure can increase the risk of dangerous skin cancers.
Scientists recommend exposing the body (wearing light clothes is preferable) to sunlight for 10 to 30 minutes, more if you have dark skin.
You can also wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your face and eyes while exposing the rest of your body. And depending on how sensitive your skin is, you can try going without sunscreen for the first 30 minutes. Then apply it before your skin starts to burn.
And as an added precaution, if you’re going to a public place like a park, don’t forget to wear your mask.
This article was first published in theAsianparent.