In between my “addiction to essential oils” and my obsession with learning more about the microbiome, I have been enjoying the company of my long-lost buddy, Mr. Sun! He often only visits upstate NY for “quality time” for less than half a year, so I’ve been getting outdoors more often to bond with him!
Therefore, I want to remind you that as important as it is to feed our brains with information, it is also important to expose our bodies to all the health-promoting benefits solar rays have to offer!
In this blog, I’ll give you a brief review of some of these wellness-enhancing effects. Hopefully, it will motivate more people to head outside and cheer-on sun lovers who are already basking in the light!
The Pick-Me-Up of “Lighter” Movement
First of all, the benefits of “green space,” in and out of the sun, for all aspects of health and stress relief, shouldn’t be overlooked. Therefore, if you already work out, you may want to consider “moving it” into the open air. In fact, the great open spaces may even increase your likelihood of staying engaged in your workout regime and perk you up a bit. For example, studies show that outdoor exercise may boost enjoyment of movement and increase adherence to working out. A 2011 review of eleven studies reported:
Compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy. However, the results suggested that feelings of calmness may be decreased following outdoor exercise. Participants reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and declared a greater intent to repeat the activity at a later date.
Another small trial found that exercising outdoors may boost social connectivity. Although the geek in me must report that methodology on various other measures wasn’t optimal, most experts agree that even with some mixed results, there are usually more positive benefits associated with exercise outside. These tend to outweigh even the positive aspects of movement in four-wall-huffing-and-puffing confinement.
Now, what about sun, specifically?
Healthy Sun Power!
There’s so much sunlight can do for us!
I know what you’re thinking, but it goes way beyond all the benefits of the “celebrity vitamin” of the past few years, vitamin D!
In fact, bonding with the sun is linked to modulating neurotransmitters for a better mood, skin health, circadian rhythm, melatonin production, and more! If you want to dive deeper into these areas, Dr. Mercola summarizes all of these aspects in this article.
In an article in Environmental Health Perspectives, authors provide support for the science behind several of these benefits and it describes additional immune pathways that are activated by the sun! These include modulation of (1) immune signaling molecules (cytokines), (2) neuropeptide substance P, (3) alpha melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH), (4) calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), and (5) endorphins!
Furthermore, Green Med Info highlighted five studies that reported more on the benefits for enjoying the warmth of the sun. These included:
1) Sunlight Has Pain-Killing (Analgesic) Properties: A 2005 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine titled, “The effect of sunlight on postoperative analgesic medication use: a prospective study of patients undergoing spinal surgery,” analyzed patients staying on the bright side of the hospital unit who were exposed to 46% higher-intensity sunlight on average. The patients exposed to an increased intensity of sunlight experienced less perceived stress, marginally less, (unclear) took 22% less analgesic medication per hour, and had 21% less pain medication costs…
2) Sunlight Burns Fat: A 2011 study published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology revealed a remarkable fact of metabolism: The exposure of human skin to UV light results in increased subcutaneous fat metabolism.…
3) Sunlight via Solar Cycles May Directly Regulate Human Lifespan: Published in 2010 in the journal Medical Hypotheses and titled, “The effect of solar cycles on human lifespan in the 50 United states: variation in light affects the human genome,” researchers review the possibility that solar cycles directly affect the human genome…
4) Daytime Sunlight Exposure Improves Evening Alertness: A 2012 study published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience titled, “Effects of prior light exposure on early evening performance, subjective sleepiness, and hormonal secretion,” found that subjects felt significantly more alert at the beginning of the evening after being exposed to 6 hours of mainly daylight exposure, whereas they became sleepier at the end of the evening after artificial light exposure…
5) Sunlight May Convert To Metabolic Energy: If a novel hypothesis published in 2008 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine is correct,[vi] a longstanding assumption that animals are incapable of utilizing light energy directly is now called into question. In other words, our skin may contain the equivalent of melanin “solar-panels,” and it may be possible to “ingest” energy, as plants do, directly from the Sun.
This is enough sunny news to cheer anyone’s disposition and make them less SAD, right? ?
Okay, But…What About Too Much Sun?
Ah…the sun-skin cancer connection, a recently debated topic!
Dr. Mercola gives us more insight on this sunny topic in another article. He summarizes all the things related to sunshine benefits listed above, but also the sunscreen and the cancer controversy. You can read it in full here.
The Goldilocks Theory
The bottom line is, as always balance. We should not fear getting some sun, as it may be linked to longevity and health. Still, we must also protect against too much, due to an association of excess causing adverse health effects. “‘Tis the dose that is the poison.”
Proper sun protection should include non-toxic chemicals. A good resource can be found here.
To close, I’ll leave you with this wonderful video with Richard Weller. He reviews more between the pros and cons of too little and too much sun.
Goldilocks is usually “just right!” 😉
TED Talks, January 2013
Here’s to safe sunning and smiling dispositions!