By Vanesa Sallego
We know that too much sun can lead to skin cancer, but there are actually healthy reasons to enjoy the sun when it’s shining—in moderation, of course. Let’s take a look at the various health benefits of sunlight and how to make the most of those warm rays for better health.
Improved Mental Health
Our brains release different hormones when we’re exposed to sunlight and darkness. Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, which is a “feel-good” chemical that can boost your mood and your energy levels, while darkness triggers the release of melatonin, which has the opposite effect and makes you feel sleepy. Not getting enough sunshine can cause your serotonin levels to drop, increasing your risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression associated with changing seasons. Reduced sunlight can has also been linked to non-seasonal depression, along with depression in pregnancy, anxiety, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is severe depression before menstrual periods.
Better Bone Health
Sunlight, particularly ultraviolet-B radiation in sunlight, causes your body’s skin to produce vitamin-D naturally. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, resulting in stronger bones and increased bone density. This reduces the risk of osteoporosis, fractures, rickets, and other bone-related conditions.
Lower Risk of Certain Cancers
While the risk of skin cancers increases when you’re exposed to too much sunlight, the risk of other cancers drops significantly because of the vitamin D your body produces. These cancers include:
Insufficient sunlight has also been linked to a higher risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Other Health Benefits
Research has also indicated a possible link between vitamin D and several other health conditions, suggesting that getting more vitamin D from sunlight or a supplement decreases the risk of:
- insulin resistance
- type 2 diabetes
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- high blood pressure
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- inflammatory bowel disease
How Much Sun Should You Get?
Sunlight, like most other things in life, is better enjoyed in moderation. There are no set guidelines regarding how much sun a person should get in order to reap all the rewards without the risk. Various factors, such as your skin type and the time of day you’re out in the sun impact the benefits and risks. A person’s amount of body fat, whether or not they’re wearing sunscreen and how much can also impact how much vitamin D your skin is able to produce from your time in the sun.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that getting 5 to 15 minutes of the sun’s rays on the skin of your face, hands, and feet two or three times a day is sufficient to get the vitamin D benefits associated with sunlight. Spending any more time than that in the sun requires protection from a hat, clothing, and sunscreen in order to prevent burning.