Here comes the sun

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As the days get longer, how important is it to get out and soak up the sun?

Living under nationwide restrictions has impacted many with feelings of stagnation, lethargy and a lack of motivation, with a third of Brits saying that working from home has made them the most lethargic and tired they have ever been. The timings for this current lockdown are also far from ideal, with the winter months seeing the re-emergence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affecting one in three people in the UK, which is bound to have further adverse effects on our energy levels.

As we venture through February, seasonal weather will soon start to turn as the Spring months soon approach. With this brings greater exposure to sunlight. For example, over the month of February, each day sees an additional 2 minutes of sunlight, totalling up to a whole hour every four weeks. 

Scientific studies have shown that exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin, which helps boost our overall mood and helps us feel calm and focused. Serotonin is also great for reducing stress and combating Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression triggered by the changing season. But this isn’t the only reason to get out in the sun.

John Nolan-Neylan, co-Founder and CEO of energy specialist, Revvies, discusses the health benefits of getting out in the sun:

Strengthens your immune system

Vitamin D is critical for your immune system and one of the best ways to absorb it is through sunlight. In the time of Covid, a healthy immune system has never been more important as it can help reduce the risk of illness, infections and some cancers. 

Reduces stress

With many of us working from home now, or you could say living at work, it has become difficult to escape the pressures and stresses of work, but getting out in the sun could help. Being outside in the sunlight will actually help your body naturally regulate melatonin, which can help reduce your stress level and reactivity. Additionally, because you're often doing something active when you’re outside such as walking, cycling or running, that extra exercise will also help to lower stress levels. 

Helps to fight mild depression 

Sunshine is great for improving your mood and it does this by giving a boost to your body’s level of serotonin, which is a chemical that improves your mood and helps you stay calm and focused. Increased exposure to natural light may help ease the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and help to fight off depression. 

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. 

Maintains strong bones

One of the easiest ways to get vitamin D is by being outside. Our bodies produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and all you need for this  is about 15 minutes in the sun a day. Vitamin D helps your body maintain calcium to support strong and healthy bones, so getting out in the sun is one of the easiest and most effective ways of strengthening your bones.  

Enhances 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. A study 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, organising and storing memories.