With the recent hot weather and spring finally making its presence felt, Sally looks at the benefits that a good spell of sunshine can bring for our health and wellbeing.
It’s pretty common knowledge that the sun comes with its dangers – I’ve spoken numerous times about the risk of skin cancer and other heat-related conditions, but it’s not all bad when it comes to sunshine… On top of the joy that it brings with its warmer temperatures and lighter days, the sun can actually do wonders for our health and wellbeing. Here’s how.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones – it helps our bones to mineralise, keeping them hard and strong – and if that’s not enough, research has suggested that it aids our immune system, and it has also been linked to a reduced risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Pretty impressive. But we don’t get much Vitamin D from foods – we make it in our skin when it is exposed to sunlight, and too many of us are simply not getting enough of it!
A recent study has shown that 1 in 5 of us in the UK is Vitamin D deficient – unsurprising given the low levels of sunlight that we get throughout the autumn and winter months. Which makes it even more important that we make the most of the sun that we get through the spring and summer months. What better excuse to head outdoors and take in some of that lovely sunshine (provided you’re wearing a decent level SPF of course!)
A better night’s sleep
Our circadian rhythms are essential in keeping our body clocks regular – and the amount of sunlight that we are exposed to during the day is essential in maintaining a normal circadian rhythm. In the summer, those bright mornings help our bodies to restart its active daytime phase, kick-starting our circadian rhythms – and as a result, can help us to get to sleep at night too.
Our bodies’ natural responses to light can have all kinds of effects on us – from our appetite, energy levels, and, importantly, our mood. Have you ever noticed how much happier people seem when the sun is out? Boosting how much light you are exposing yourself to could help to boost those happiness levels and keep you feeling cheerful. What’s more, exposure to even 20 minutes of natural sunlight, particularly in the morning, has been shown to help keep the weight off.
We all know that exercise is essential in keeping us as healthy as possible – and when the sun is shining, there’s no excuse why you shouldn’t be heading out for some outdoor fitness. Not only will you get that boost of endorphins you get when exercising, but you’ll get the added bonus of some much-needed sunshine and Vitamin D. And, let’s be honest, there are a whole heap of outdoor fitness activities that are much more enjoyable when the sun is shining – think running, hiking, making the most of your local outdoor pool (or even the sea or a local lake if you’re lucky enough to have one close by!).
Lowers blood pressure
According to a recent study, exposure to the sun may actually help to lower your blood pressure. In the study, from the Edinburgh University, dermatologists studied the blood pressure of 34 volunteers in two different sessions – once under UV and once under heat lamps. After exposure to UV rays for an hour, the study showed a significant drop in blood pressure – but after the heat-only sessions, there was no such drop. Whilst I’m sure this could do with a much more in-depth study, it’s worth giving a go if you’re struggling with high-blood pressure – just be sure to wear the right level SPF.
For some people, the dangers of the sun can lead to actually avoiding exposure to it as much as possible, but these benefits show us just why we need to be making the most of it… We just need to make sure we’re enjoying it safely. So instead of fearing the sun and those potential dangers, make the most of the benefits that it can bring – relish those warm, sunny days that you can spend outdoors with the kids, and the bright mornings and light evenings that we will undoubtedly be dreaming of come winter.
Liu, D, Fernandez, BO, Lang, NN, Gallagher, JM, Newby, DE, Feelisch, M & Weller, RB 2013, ‘UVA lowers blood pressure and vasodilates the systemic arterial vasculature by mobilisation of cutaneous nitric oxide stores’ Journal of Investigative Dermatology, vol 133, pp. S212-S212.