A lack of natural light in your life can be disastrous. Here are some reasons to get outside, even when it’s cold.
For the past two days, the winter wind has been howling outside my door. This is not a metaphor. My home is tucked up against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and when the wind comes zooming down over the mountains, there’s only a wide open field between it and my front door. It sounds like a hurricane and always brings a chill.
Needless to say, my motivation to get outside in the natural light has been slim to none. But when I spend too many consecutive days holed up inside, I start to feel a very special type of crazy. Although we’re scared of what excessive sun exposure can do to our skin, natural light is pretty important to our health. When we don’t get enough, bad things can happen.
If the howling wind (or snow, ice, and freezing rain) has been keeping you indoors lately, here are nine compelling reasons to get outside in the natural light. Even if it’s only for a minute or two.
Natural Light: 9 Reasons Your Life Needs More Of It
1. Cancer Prevention – Let’s start with the jaw-dropper. That’s right, all of this time we’ve been thinking the sun = cancer when in fact regular exposure to natural light can actually help prevent this disease. In 2012, “a groundbreaking new meta-analysis on the sunlight – vitamin D connection, published in the journal Anticancer Research and based on data from over 100 countries, found ‘a strong inverse correlations with solar UVB for 15 types of cancer,’ with weaker, though still significant evidence for the protective role of sunlight in 9 other cancers,” reports GreenMedInfo. (Note: prolonged, unprotected exposure to sunlight is STILL correlated with skin cancer, however).
2. Healthier Skin – If you suffer from certain skin conditions, more exposure to natural light could be the key to gaining some relief. In one study, an outdoor four-week sunbathing therapy was shown to promote significant clearance of psoriasis symptoms in 84 percent of subjects.
3. Improved Mental Health – Natural light “…tends to elevate people’s mood, and there’s usually more light available outside than in. Physical activity has been shown to help people relax and cheer up, so if being outside replaces inactive pursuits with active ones, it might also mean more smiles,” reports the Harvard Health Letter. “One solid study found that sunlight actually increases levels of a natural antidepressant in the brain. On sunny days, the brain produces more of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin than on darker days,” writes Dr. Michael Murray for Care2.com.
4. Stronger Bones – “In building bone, calcium has an indispensable assistant: vitamin D. This vitamin helps the body absorb calcium, and some researchers think that increasing vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis,” reports the Harvard Medical School.
5. Better Concentration – A recent study found an association between the amount of natural light exposure and the severity of ADHD symptoms in some children. Researchers found that “sunny” regions with high solar intensity, such as the U.S. states of California, Arizona, and Colorado, and countries like Spain and Mexico have lower prevalence of ADHD. The authors speculate that this may be related to sunlight’s effects on our biological clock and sleep patterns.
6. Sharper Vision – While you should never look directly at the sun, and always wear sunglasses in extremely bright situations (the beach, or a sunny winter day), some research suggests that natural light is a great optometrist. Scientists have found a correlation between lack of sun exposure and nearsightedness–the more time spent outdoors, the less likely children were to develop poor eyesight.
7. Faster Healing – Some research shows that the sun plays a key role in recovery from injury or illness. “People recovering from spinal surgery experienced less pain and stress and took fewer pain medications when they were exposed to natural light. An older study showed that the view out the window (trees vs. a brick wall) helped recovery in the hospital,” reports the Harvard Health Letter.
8. Sounder Sleep – Our bodies take cues from the natural environment. The amount of natural light we’re exposed to during the day helps tell our internal clock when it’s time to rest. If you’re having trouble sleeping, the answer could be to spend more time outdoors on sunny days.
9. Healthier Weight – If the sun is shining, we’re more likely to get up from the couch and move around outdoors. But the connection between natural light and a healthy weight goes even deeper. Sunlight is known to encourage production of vitamin D and serotonin, both of which play a role in weight management.
How To Safely Reap The Benefits Of Natural Light
The key to enjoying the benefits of natural light is to be careful “A small amount of sun exposure can help your body manufacture its own vitamin D — about five to 30 minutes of sunlight between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. twice a week to your face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen will enable you to make enough of the vitamin. People with fair skin that burns easily should protect themselves from skin cancer by limiting sun exposure to 10 minutes or less,” explains the Harvard Medical School. Food and sun exposure should suffice, but if not, some experts advise getting 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily from a supplement.
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