As long-term exposure to sunlight can lead to sunburn, skin aging and even skin cancer, many people may prefer staying indoors and avoiding sunlight. But do not completely shun the sun. Limited sun exposure has numerous health benefits.
Sunlight is the easiest and healthiest way to get vitamin D– the “sunshine vitamin” – which is almost as vital to life as oxygen. When exposed to sunlight, the body makes vitamin D.
But, you do not need to tan or burn your skin to get vitamin D. Sun exposure that makes the skin a bit red produces the equivalent of 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D in the body.
Vitamin D behaves in the body more like a hormone than a vitamin. It plays an important role in electrolyte metabolism, protein synthesis, immunity, nerve and muscle functioning, and an array of other physiologic processes.
Sunlight has many health benefits, but enjoy it in moderation.
- Exposure to early morning sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes (without sunscreen) is a good option.
- Avoid direct sunlight during the peak hours of the day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- If required to be out in the sun during the peak hours, apply sunscreen on exposed body parts, wear proper clothes and wear a cap or use an umbrella.
Here are the top 10 health benefits of sunshine.
1. Boosts Immunity
Sunlight builds the immune system. When exposed to sunlight, the body makes vitamin D to support proper functioning of the T cells that contribute to immune defenses. A strong immune system defends the body against foreign, invading organisms.
Vitamin D has been found to help modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency appears to be linked to an increased susceptibility to infection and many autoimmune diseases.
2. Supports Healthy Bones
For healthy and strong bones, sunlight is necessary. It helps the body produce vitamin D that stimulates the absorption of bone-strengthening calcium. This leads to reduced risk of bone diseases, fractures and osteoporosis.
According to a 2004 study published in the journal American Society for Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D deficiency causes rickets among children, exacerbates osteoporosis among adults and causes the painful bone disease osteomalacia.
In addition, a high level of vitamin D in the body is associated with a lower rate of virtually all types of fractures.
3. Rejuvenates Aging Eyes
According to a 2012 study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, vitamin D3 plays a key role in preventing age-related macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of blindness in the elderly. It helps aging eyes by reducing inflammation, clearing amyloid beta and improving visual function.
For eye health, you do not have look directly at the sun. Follow these steps.
- Stand in a sunny place in the early morning. Do not wear lens or glasses.
- Close your eyes and allow the sunlight to fall on the eyelids.
- Feel the warmth of the sunrays on your eyes and slowly move your eyes up and down, right to left, clockwise and counter-clockwise.
- Do this for 5 minutes, then do palming for another 5 minutes.
- Do this once daily.
Note: Avoid long-term exposure to bright sunlight as it may contribute to the development of cataract.
4. Improves Metabolism
Sunlight can help you maintain healthy weight by speeding up your metabolism rate. A 2014 study published in the journal Diabetes found that ultraviolet (UV) radiation suppresses obesity and symptoms of metabolic syndrome independently of vitamin D.
Further research showed that nitric oxide (a compound that the skin releases after sun exposure) had similar obesity- and diabetes–slowing effects. Researchers believe that nitric oxide may have beneficial effects on the way the body regulates metabolism.
On the other hand, vitamin D deficiency may contribute to fat accumulation.
5. Improves Sleep Quality
Exposure to natural daylight helps maintain your sleep-wake cycle. With exposure to bright sunlight, the optic nerve sends a message to the gland in the brain that produces melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep onset.
The gland secretes less melatonin during the daytime. As soon as it is dark, it starts increasing production. Low levels of melatonin production are linked to poor sleep quality.
In addition, sunlight helps regulate circadian rhythms for a better night’s sleep. Circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that regulates biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes that control your sleep cycle.
6. Eases Mild Depression
Regular sunlight exposure can naturally increase the serotonin levels in your body to help lessen stress and fight off mild depression.
Serotonin is neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, memory and mood. In addition, serotonin plays a role in susceptibility to depression and suicide.
Sunlight deprivation is often associated with depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that most often occurs during winter months. Therefore, exposure to sunlight can help improve these conditions.
Moreover, a 2002 study published in the journal Lancet also suggests that sunlight and season have a positive effect on serotonin turnover in the brain.
7. Boosts Height
Sunlight also helps increase your height. In 2009, a 18–year study by researchers at University of Bristol in UK found that women who are pregnant during the summer tend to have taller, stronger-boned babies.
Exposure to sunlight triggers the body to produce vitamin D, which has a direct impact on children’s growth and development, especially toddlers. In addition, sun exposure affects bone mass, primarily increasing the width of bones.
According to the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, it is important to get adequate vitamin D during pregnancy and breastfeeding for the baby’s overall healthy development.
8. Reduces Cancer Risks
An adequate amount of vitamin D in the body can reduce the risk of colon, kidney and breast cancer. Lack of sun exposure contributes to vitamin D deficiency, which in turn increases the risk of many cancers.
According to a 2007 study published in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, improving calcium and vitamin D nutritional status substantially reduces all cancer risk in postmenopausal women.
In addition, vitamin D combined with other cancer treatments tends to improve the patient’s prognosis.
9. Lowers Risk for Multiple Sclerosis
According to a 2010 study published in the journal Lancet Neurology, adequate vitamin D nutrition in the body can contribute to preventing multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
However, there are uncertainties as to whether vitamin D can influence the course of MS progression.
In addition, low vitamin D during pregnancy may increase your baby’s risk for MS later in life. Also, early sunlight exposure in children through age 20 reduces the risk of developing MS.
10. Aids Heart Health
Exposure to sunlight is extremely beneficial for people with heart disease and those who are at a higher risk of heart disease. The warmth of the sun improves circulation and increases vitamin D levels, which in turn improves heart health.
A small 2012 study, presented at the European Society of Hypertension meeting in London, shows that vitamin D supplementation in the winter can help lower blood pressure.
When exposed to UV rays, the body releases nitric oxide that lowers blood pressure. High blood pressure is an important risk factor for heart attack, heart failure, stroke and other health problems.
In addition, sunlight also helps lower cholesterol and reduces the risk of strokes.