Ever wonder why cruising down the slopes in the sunshine makes you feel so good? The many benefits of sunlight is presented in a recent LifeHack.org article that we'd like to share with you - something to keep in mind as we open the Vista Express for some high altitude runs in a week that will bring us lots of sunshine!
When natural sunlight hits the skin it triggers the body's production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is also known as “the sunshine vitamin.” It is a crucial ingredient for overall health; protects against inflammation, lowers high blood pressure, helps muscles, improves brain function and may even protect against cancer.
1. Sun exposure lowers blood pressure.
In a landmark study, a group of researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that a compound called nitric oxide that helps lower blood pressure is released into the blood vessels as soon as sunlight touches the skin. This finding was important because until then it was thought that sunlight’s only health benefits to humans was to stimulate production of vitamin D. Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology, and colleagues, however, found that sun exposure can not only improve health, but also prolong life. That’s because the benefits of lower blood pressure include cutting risk of heart attacks and strokes. These benefits, says, Weller “far outweigh the risk of getting skin cancer.”
2. Sun exposure improves bone health.
It is a well known fact that vitamin D stimulates the absorption of bone-strengthening calcium and phosphorus in the body. However, emerging research also indicates there is a direct correlation between bone density and vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is a fat-soluble vitamin formed during the process of Vitamin D manufacture when sunlight hits the skin. It regulates calcium absorption. When you have higher levels of vitamin D3 in your blood, you are at a lower risk of suffering fractures of virtually all types. On the other hand, lower levels of vitamin D3 in the blood are associated with higher rate of all types of fractures. This is why sun exposure is especially important for bone health in older adults.
3. Sun exposure improves brain function.
Aside from promoting bone health and regulating vital calcium levels, scientists have now linked vitamin D with a number of functions throughout the body, including the functioning of the brain. One study led by neuroscientist David Llewellyn of the University of Cambridge, assessed vitamin D levels in more than 1,700 men and women from England, aged 65 or older and found that cognitive function reduced the lower the subjects’ vitamin D levels were. However, more studies have found sunlight could help spur nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for forming, organizing and storing of memories.
4. Sun exposure eases mild depression.
Sunlight deprivation can cause a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression common in the winter months. It is also common in people who work long hours in office buildings and hardly get out for some sun. Moderate sun exposure, however, increases levels of natural antidepressants in the brain that can actually help relieve this and other forms of mild depression. That’s because on sunny days the brain produces more serotonin, a mood-lifting chemical, than on darker days.
5. Sun exposure improves sleep quality.
When sunlight hits our eyes, a message is sent to the pineal gland in the brain and production of melatonin (a hormone that makes us drowsy and helps us sleep) is shut down until the sun goes down again. Your body gets a clear signal that it’s no longer night and this helps to maintain a normal circadian rhythm. When it gets dark outside, your body gets the signal again and you feel tired and drowsy at bedtime. Low levels of melatonin production at night due to overproduction during the day has been linked to poor sleep quality, especially in older adults. Ditch the sunglasses early in the morning when you wake up if possible so your body gets the message that it is day and triggers the pineal gland to stop releasing melatonin.
6. Sun exposure enhances the immune system.
Sun exposure can help suppress an overactive immune system, which could explain why sunlight is used to treat autoimmune diseases like psoriasis. And since white blood cells increase with sun exposure and they play a key role in fighting diseases and defending the body against infection, moderate sun exposure is very helpful for your immune system.
The LifeHack.org article lists more benefits (including growing taller children and improving your immune system)!
Get your sunshine in moderate doses :
Sunshine does have its benefits, but it’s still the number one cause of skin cancer. Experts recommend no more than 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight daily for a healthy adult. After that, apply sunscreen with a minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF)