How UV Rays Can Benefit Your Health
Do you ever wonder why sun exposure and long summer days seem to improve your health and disposition, even though sunlight is supposedly dangerous to our skin health? The reason is that there are two sides to every story, and being in the sun is no exception. In spite of the potential harm that the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can do, there is a lot of good that comes from spending some time under the sun. Once you know what you can get out of it, you might find yourself looking to spend more time outdoors this summer. The benefits of sunlight are both physical and mental:
- Improved Sleep/Wakefulness: Natural daylight helps your body increase its levels of serotonin (the chemical that promotes "daytime" emotions), and with it alertness, energy, and mood. When your body is producing optimal levels of serotonin, it can more easily regulate its melatonin (the chemical that promotes "nighttime" emotions such as drowsiness and lower energy) to improve circadian (sleep) rhythms. Going outside on a sunny morning can give your body a clear signal that it's time to shut off melatonin, and begin serotonin production. Also, allowing some sunlight to reach your eyes uninhibited by sunglasses can more directly send this signal to your brain.
- Enhanced Mood: A benefit of the serotonin discussed above is that is boosts mood. For this reason some people call it the "happy" chemical. During the time of year when there is the most sunlight, there seem to be fewer reports of depression and general sadness. Experts are now linking cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with too little sunlight. Often, psychiatrists encourage depressed people to spend one half-hour in the sun everyday.
- Better Autoimmune Health: Scientific reports have suggested that UV light suppresses an overactive immune system. This would be good news for people with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other auto-immune diseases.
- Lessened Alzheimer's Symptoms: A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that elderly people with Alzheimer's disease displayed improved mental clarity with increased light. After being exposed to the bright light between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm, these participants scored higher on mental exams, and seemed to show fewer symptoms of depression than those who were not exposed to as much bright light.
- Vitamin D Production: The sun's UV rays are turned to Vitamin D after they penetrate your skin. Although we can obtain vitamin D in our diet and from supplements, the best way to get it is from the sun. Vitamin D is essential for the health of your bones, heart, and countless other body parts and systems.
UV light is useful and beneficial in other areas of science and health as well:
- Genetics: There are substances in genetics and biochemistry that absorb UV rays and then emit them at various wavelengths. Researchers use this technique to learn about our genetic makeup.
- Artificial Tanning: Although many people abuse the ability to get UV exposure anytime of the year with overexposure, the access to the light can be very helpful for sufferers of depression and stress with its sense of relaxation and warm climate.
- Sterilization: UV lamps have been used to sterilize work spaces, labs, tools, water, and food. This can be done at low temperatures and without toxic chemicals and vapors.
With all of the good the sun can provide, it's important to spend enough time under it to reap the benefits. Of course, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't take precautions with protective clothing, headwear, and natural sunscreen. But 10-20 minutes a day of direct sunlight can work wonders for your physical and mental health, so soak it up!