The Sun’s Role in Preventing Depression

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Most of us have heard about the adverse effects the sun rays have on our skin when we are overly exposed to it. But did you know that the right balance of sun exposure can have lots of mood-lifting benefits? Not getting enough natural sunlight can have a negative impact on our health as well.

I can vouch for that. Throughout the MCO, I managed to stay sane and healthy with a daily jog or brisk walk under the morning sun on our condo grounds. I try to squeeze out at least 30-45 minutes of my time daily for this activity as an investment to better physical and mental health.

Sunlight Is An Anti-Depressant

Depression is an increasingly common mental illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Numerous studies have found lower levels of vitamin D in people who have depression—and that vitamin D supplementation (either via sunlight or through food or supplements) can reduce rates of depression and improve symptoms. Research points to vitamin D’s role in regulating serotonin and calcium for its possible therapeutic impact on depression.

Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin, also dubbed the ‘’feel-good hormone’’. Serotonin plays a key role in staving off anxiety and depression.

Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal patterns (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD). This is a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons.

Backed By Research

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, a study on 16,800 participants from a national cohort study of blacks and whites, aged 45+ found an association between decreased exposure to sunlight and increased probability of cognitive impairment using a novel data source.

In another study, conducted by the Baker Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, samples were taken from 101 healthy men during each of the four seasons and compared with various weather factors, such as temperature, rainfall, hours of bright sunlight, and atmospheric pressure. 

Researchers found that regardless of the season, the turnover of serotonin in the brain was affected by the amount of sunlight on any given day. And the levels of serotonin were higher on bright days than on overcast or cloudy ones. In fact, the rate of serotonin production in the brain was directly related to the duration of bright sunlight. 

The study shows that the brain produces more of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin on sunny days than on darker days.

Additional Benefits of Sunlight

Exposure to the sun’s warm rays at a specific time and in a consistent manner can be beneficial for your health. It may heal numerous skin diseases, helps to elevate your mood, helps to improve your sleep at night and the vitamin D from sunlight promotes bone health and gives your immune system a boost.

Light therapy, specifically therapy with UV radiation, has been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) to treat certain skin conditions, including eczema, acne, jaundice, and psoriasis. Some pediatricians even advise parents to let babies soak up sunshine if they are born with mild cases of jaundice.

We all know that excessive UV exposure can increase our risk of skin cancer, but the right amount of sunlight can actually reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and colon cancer. This information was published in an article by the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

For those who are trying to shed a few pounds, basking in the morning sunshine can reduce body fat. According to a study by the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry that was published in the journal Scientific Reports, sunlight shrinks fat cells and can aid in weight loss. The blue-light spectrum of sunlight, a spectrum that can penetrate the skin, can cause subdermal fat tissue to decrease in size. In simple words, sunlight helps you burn more fat. So go ahead and walk, jog, and do gardening under the sun to help you lose more weight!

How Much Sun Exposure Is Needed

Getting healthy levels of sunlight is crucial in living your healthiest life. However, do practice safe sun exposure protection measures.

According to the MyHealth portal under Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia, it is suggested that you get approximately 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10.00 am and 3.00 pm at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen to get sufficient daily vitamin D requirements.

Allow 10 to 15 minutes or so of unprotected sun exposure to your arms, legs, abdomen, and back several times a week. After that, follow up with good sun protection topical application, like an SPF30 or higher sunblock.

We’ve lived so much of our days under artificial light, which does not provide the full spectrum of the all-natural light we get from the sun.  To reap the health benefits of the sun, soak in a little sunshine vitamin in the morning to help jump-start your day positively at absolutely no cost to your bank account.

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Health Freak Mommy
Author: Health Freak Mommy

A health freak mom to 3 teenage girls. Blogger since April 2007.