Sun… it is so trivial, but at the same time so complex… Needless to remind you that without sun there will be no life on our planet, so logically it should be pretty important for our health too. For me personally sun is very important part of my well-being.
Although there are also important sunlight risks to be aware of (which I will cover in the next post), the health benefits of moderate sun exposure in fact mostly outweigh them.
Growing up in Moscow, where sunny days are generally a rarity, I always felt rather down – dragging myself out of bed in the dark morning hours and spending most of the day in the cloudy gloom never feeling fully awake. And then, during my teen years, I had a chance to spend more than half a year at the opposite side of the world, in the sunny Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. I cannot even fully describe the difference that I felt living in constant sunshine. It was like in that commercial – like changing your generic battery to the Energizer one. I had much more energy, slept better and overall felt just great!
Having a background in biology, I´ve always been interested in understanding why something as trivial as sunshine has such dramatic effect on my (and other´s) well-being. And here is what I´ve discovered:
Sunlight Lowers Our Blood Pressure
Being outside on a sunny day always feels very relaxing, but some recent studies actually proved that as soon as sunshine touches our skin it induces the release of nitric oxide – a compound that lowers blood pressure. In addition, sun rays trigger the production of the Vitamin D, which, among other things, also helps to sustain and normalize the work of our heart. So it is not a surprise that the lowest rate of heart disease are found in the sunny Mideterranean coast and in other similar southern countries.
Sunshine Makes Us Happier and Helps Us Fight Depression
For me it is the first and most notable effect of sunshine, I immediately feel happier no matter how bad my day was. And there is a relatively simple scientific explanation for it: when our eyes receive sunlight it induces the production of serotonin and also dopamine in our brain. These are mood-lifting hormones that are very important for our motivation, reflexes, energy and even weight control.
Enjoying Sun Helps Us Sleep Better
Although it sounds a bit controversial, sun actually helps us sleep better. On a sunny day our brain receives the signal to stop produce melatonin – a hormone that makes us drowsy and sleepy, so that gland producing it can re-charge and then produce melatonin much better during the night. So you shouldn´t forget to go out and enjoy the sunlight whenever you can in the morning!
Sunlight kills bacteria, so it is not surprising then that it also heals and helps to prevent many skin diseases, from acne to psoriasis. I myself can attest to that - having very problematic skin persistent even after my teen years, I almost forgot about it since moving to sunny Barcelona, such a relief. But skin healing is not all sun can help with. It has been also shown that regular sun exposure (moderate, of course) increases oxygen transfer in our blood, thus helping to improve conditions of all organs – in particular brain, but also heart, arteries and even production of white blood cells responsible for strong immune system.
Sun Prevents Cancer
Yes, this is the most confusing fact. Recently there has been an increasing uproar about the danger of sun exposure in relation to skin cancer. And although it is indeed true that damaging sun UV rays greatly contribute to skin cancer development, it has also been proven that moderate and mindful exposure to sunlight is crucial in preventing several other type of very dangerous cancer types, such as breast, ovarian, prostate, colon and other. So it is very important to balance our time between enjoying the sun and avoiding it.
Sunshine Helps Us Grow
Well, in adults sun doesn´t exactly helps us grow, but rather strengthen our bones. Vitamin D production is vital for bone cells, therefore its is very important for children to have regular sun exposure (again, exposure should be moderate of course) to avoid Vitamin D deficiency and growth impairment. I still remember a documentary I´ve seen in Russia about the beneficial results of an artificial light treatment that is necessary for the children in some of the northern parts of the country.
There are actually many more awesome benefits of sun for our health, but I´ve covered the most important ones. And reading about all of these might make you want to spend as much time on the sun as possible, and I will be right behind you on it. However, it would be unwise - knowing and understanding also all the risks about sun exposure is even more important if we want to actually get all that benefits for our health and well-being.
Therefore, in my next post I will also try to cover all that I´ve discovered about the risks of my beloved sun. Stay tuned!