Sunny days are here again. Figuratively speaking, COVID-19 is loosening its grip on us, allowing us to reconnect with family and friends in person and start to do the things we love again. But sunny days are also literally here again — because it’s summer. As the mercury rises, the days become longer, giving us more time to spend outside. So, how does sunlight affect your health?
There’s a ton of research that shows that simply going outside is beneficial to both your physical and mental health, and it certainly beats another day of Netflix and popcorn.
Let’s discuss why spending time outdoors is so good for your body and mind – how sunlight can benefit your health – and a few fun open-air activities to add to your summer itinerary. We’ll also discuss sun-safety tips to keep in mind when you go outside to ensure it’s a good experience during and after your adventures.
Pros of Going Outside
The evidence is clear: Opening the door and setting foot outside is a great step in improving your physical and mental health. Here are a few reasons why.
Sunlight Can Boost Your Mood
Scientists have found that a lack of sunlight can lead to a decrease in serotonin levels in a person’s brain. Why? When your eyes take note of the sun, your retinas send a message to your brain to release more. Unfortunately, your body can’t get the memo to release serotonin if you don’t go outside.
What is serotonin, and why does it matter? Serotonin is a hormone that aids in mood regulation. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, which is why light therapy is sometimes used to treat depression with seasonal patterns. But come summertime, the sun acts as a natural mood-booster.
Not only that, decreased sunlight is linked to anxiety and panic disorders, and research shows exposure to natural environments reduces stress. Simply going for a 10-minute walk or sitting outside may help you feel calmer.
Going Outside Helps You Sleep
You may use curtains or blinds in your room to block out the sunlight when you sleep. You can continue to do that, of course, especially if it helps you. But going outside during the day can help you sleep better at night.
The amount of sunlight you get correlates to how much melatonin, a hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle, your brain produces. When you go outside, your brain may produce melatonin 2.5 hours earlier, according to one small study. In turn, you’ll feel like hitting the sack sooner and get a longer, better night’s rest.
The sun is a natural source of vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for keeping our bones, teeth and muscles in tip-top shape. Though you can take a vitamin, sunlight provides a natural and free alternative. You don’t need to be out there from dawn to dusk — experts say even 15 minutes of sun exposure will provide your body with the vitamin D it needs to continue to thrive.
Sunlight can help prevent cancer
Repeated sun exposure without protection is associated with higher rates of skin cancer. But a little sunlight can actually lower your risk of some other cancers. Researchers say that people who live in areas with more hours of daylight are less prone to colon cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Sunlight is healing for the skin
You probably know sunburns are no fun, nor are they good for your skin. But the sun can also be healing for the skin. The World Health Organization says that sunlight can help with conditions, including eczema, jaundice and acne.
Cons of Going Outside (Plus Solutions)
Though going outside can be beneficial for your physical and mental health, there are a few drawbacks. But don’t let them stop you from going outdoors. Here are some quick fixes to common barriers to getting fresh air and sunlight.
Too much sun can cause skin damage and even cancer
The sun’s UV rays can be harmful. They can increase your risk for developing skin cancer. They can also cause signs of premature aging, like wrinkles. And let’s face it, sunburns hurt.
The solution: Protect yourself by wearing sunscreen. Opt for an SPF 30+. A light, long-sleeve shirt can also provide protection, and a hat can keep the rays from getting to your scalp. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, and consider avoiding the outdoors when the sun is the brightest, typically between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Heatstroke and exhaustion risks increase when the temperatures rise
Being outside in the heat of summer can cause issues that could be deadly, including heatstroke and exhaustion.
The solution: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink water even if you don’t think you need to. As great as going outside is, don’t feel obligated to if you’re in the middle of a heat wave. It will pass, and you can get back to exploring the outdoors. Also, keep in mind that even 15 minutes of sun exposure is beneficial. On hotter days, consider doing the minimum, and look for shadier areas such as those underneath trees or awnings.
Ways to Get Outside
Ready to have some fun outside? Try adding these activities to your summer bucket list.
· Go for a walk. A simple, 10 to 15-minute walk can feel meditative and allow you to move while getting sunlight. If you have access to green space or hiking trails, consider hitting one of them since natural environments can lower stress.
· Sign up for an intramural league. We’ve been in isolation for the last year, and there was a loneliness epidemic even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Participating in a team sport, such as signing up for a local softball league, can help you feel more connected.
· Garden. Gardening can enhance your physical and mental health in several ways. Research shows it can decrease anxiety, depression and body mass index (BMI) while bettering quality of life and life satisfaction. Consider growing an herb garden and tomatoes, or planting some pretty flowers, caring for them and watching them bloom.
· Dive in. Make a splash in your pool or pay a visit to a public one in your area. One study showed water aerobic activity lowered body fat and blood pressure and increased strength.