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For decades, we have been shying away from the sun, given its ties to skin cancer and premature aging. But a growing body of scientific research suggests that completely shunning sunlight isn't such a good idea. Here is why you should soak up some sunshine every day:|
It elevates mood. "The sun works through a number of receptors in the brain to affect our mental status and alertness," says Dr. Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio. Moderate sunlight exposure helps improve your mood and focus by boosting the serotonin levels in your body. Also known as the 'happiness hormone', it makes you calm and alert. Also, "sunlight decreases the risk of depression in those at risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)," adds Dr. Roizen.
It improves sleep. "The brighter your daylight exposure, the more melatonin you produce at night," says Dr. Mithu Storoni, physician, researcher and author of Stress-Proof. Melatonin is a type of hormone that's "produced by the pineal gland in the brain during darkness at night", she explains. Also known as the sleep hormone, melatonin has "a range of effects on the brain, from improving sleep to synchronizing your biological clocks, and lowering stress reactivity," adds Dr. Storoni. Additionally, the amount of daylight exposure you get is crucial in maintaining a normal circadian rhythm. "Distorted circadian rhythms can induce symptoms of both depression and bipolar disorder, depending on the pattern of disruption," says Dr. Storoni.
It promotes bone growth. Vitamin D is "a hormone that promotes calcium absorption and is essential for bone growth and formation," tells Dr. Roizen. Since sunlight is a primary source of Vitamin D, the hormone is also dubbed as 'the sunshine vitamin'. "The Vitamin D found in our body needs activation. The sun helps to convert inactive Vitamin D levels to active," explains Dr. Roizen. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), getting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face twice or thrice a week is enough to reap the vitamin D-boosting benefits of the sun.
It helps strengthen the immune system. "Strong association studies have found that Vitamin D is also very important in signaling the immune system. It appears to be necessary in adequate amounts to turn on your ability to survey the rest of your cells," says Dr.Roizen. Since regular sun exposure is one of the most robust ways to up active Vitamin-D levels in your body, it can help beef up your immune system as well. "Inadequate levels of this vitamin have been associated with an increased rate of infection, cancer, and mortality rate after surgery," he adds.
It lowers blood pressure. Nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Edinburgh University, moderate exposure to the sun's UV rays can cause a significant drop in blood pressure levels. Lower blood pressure levels help cut down the risk of stroke and heart disease.
It may reduce the risk of melanoma. Yes, you read that right! Safe sun exposure may actually protect you from skin cancer. According to a study published in the Lancet Journal, the skin's exposure to ultraviolet radiation of short wavelength (UVB) has been associated with a decreased risk of melanoma. The research found that outdoor workers who were exposed to regular sunlight had a lower risk of developing skin cancer compared to their indoor counterparts. Other than that, an adequate amount of sunlight has also been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers (including colon, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer), suggests a study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.
It promotes weight loss. Latest research reveals that basking in morning sunshine can reduce body fat and help you shed those extra pounds.The study suggests that as little as 20 to 30 minutes of early morning sun exposure is sufficient for you to lower your Body Mass Index (BMI) and trim your waistline.
In addition, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Human Resources found that students who get more sunlight every day perform better in tests. Yet another research conducted at the Interdepartmental Neuroscience program at Northwestern University in Chicago noted that there is a strong link between workplace daylight exposure and the employees' sleep, activity and quality of life.
But before you toss away your sunscreen and hit the beach, note that if you’re going to be outside for more than 15 minutes, you should protect your skin by applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. Since "most sunblock agents take 10-20 minutes to work, if you apply it and go immediately out in the sun, you will get what experts view as a beneficial amount of direct sun exposure," tells Dr. Roizen. And "if you live north of LA to Atlanta, the sun doesn’t have enough energy between October 15 and April 15 to increase active vitamin D levels. During this time frame, supplements are essential to avoid a deficiency," he explains. The health expert also stresses that "average individuals should measure their Vitamin D level at least once a year, more if they are changing supplements or moving to a different region."