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Embracing the light: How the sun is good for you

Embracing the light: How the sun is good for you

Posted by Kristen Boye on October 27, 2015

Did you know sunshine fights disease and promotes spectacular health? It's time to embrace the light!

Some of the best perks of rural living are the endless opportunities to spend more time outdoors. Whether you enjoy mountain biking with the kids, taking long walks through the countryside, or gardening on your new plot, you can bet sooner or later you’ll be sporting an ultra-stylish farmer’s tan.

underexposure to the sun can be dangerous tooYet, despite the known health benefits of spending time outdoors, many of us still fear the potentially harmful effects of UVA/UVB rays on our skin.

Our generation (women in particular) have been highly educated on “sun safety.” Avoiding or hiding from the sun’s rays has become standard practice. Attend any playdate or take a trip to the beach and you’ll see parents frantically applying sunscreen to children already covered head-to-toe in UVA/UVB protective bathing suits and shoulder-length sun hats. We think we’re doing the right thing by sporting the biggest floppy hat we can find, layering on the SPF 60+ and sweating it out under a cover up.

But did you know a good amount of sunshine is arguably as critical to our health as eating well and exercising? By exposing yourselves to sunlight, you can reduce your risk of diseases like diabetes, fight certain cancers, improve your mood and even protect your kids against common childhood disease.

Much of this has to do with the natural dose of vitamin D (a nutrient our nation is chronically deficient in) that comes from sunshine, but there are other factors at work we’ll explore coming up.

But before we go on, let’s address the issue of sun and skin cancer.

Excess sun exposure (including tanning beds, which many experts believe to be more harmful than natural sunshine) absolutely CAN cause skin cancer and we must maintain a balanced awareness in that regard.

The sun’s rays, like any medicinal substance, are powerful. Too much can be poison while too little can cause serious long-term health consequences.

Until recently, we have erred on the side of fearfully rejecting the sun—and widespread vitamin D deficiency and chronic disease is the result. Many experts now believe the health consequences of a lack of sun are more detrimental to our health than too much sun.

Why? Because most forms of skin cancer are curable whereas the long-term and wide-spread health consequences of vitamin D deficiency can be much more deadly. It turns what we think we’ve known about “sun safety” on its head, doesn’t it? I have published studies and more info to back up these statements coming up, so keep reading.

So…how much is too much? The jury is still out.

Your skin color, geographical location (the further you live from the equator the more sunshine you need), the time of year and the time of day all play a role in how much unprotected sun you should aim for.

According to thevitamindcouncil.org, those with fair skin only need 15 minutes daily whilst those with dark skin may require up to 2 hours daily. Sun coming through glass does not count as glass blocks UVA/UVB rays. Everyone’s need for sunshine increases in the winter months. 

But nearly everyone agrees you should never allow your skin to burn. For more information on gauging the right amount of sun for you check out the link above from The Vitamin D Council, read the info below, do your own research, consider your family history and/or ask your doctor.

Let’s look at 7 ways sunshine fights disease and promotes spectacular health for the whole family:

1. Sunlight may fight and help prevent certain types of cancers.

Tough too much sun can cause skin cancer, too little creates vitamin D deficiency that leads to a slew of more virulent types of cancer.

New research, like this article published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, and this interview from Fox news with Harvard University Professor of medicine and nutrition Dr. Edward Giovannucci, explains how vitamin D obtained from sun exposure attacks and helps prevent an array of deadly cancers including prostate, colon, lung, breast and even (ironically) some types of skin cancer.

Thanks to Dr. Giovannucci’s convincing research on sunshine/vitamin D deficiency and cancer, the American Association for Cancer Research is now reviewing its current sun protection guidelines. Perhaps we should review our standard sun protection practices too.

2. Sunshine protects against childhood asthma

We’ve talked before about how aspects of rural living, such as drinking raw milk, exposure to animals and access to cleaner air and nature help prevent many common childhood illnesses.

But would you believe the sun can actually help protect against asthma?

It’s true. According to this study published in ScienceDaily, children who live in cloudier, wetter cities have a greater incidence of respiratory illness than those who have consistent access to ample sunshine and its immune-protective Vitamin D. The sun also helps reduce inflammation, a big factor in those with asthma.

sunlight exposure can improve health

3. Builds stronger bones

If you look at your calcium supplement (or milk container) you’ll notice it contains Vitamin D. Why? Vitamin D is essential to the proper metabolism and absorption of calcium.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (and a host of other experts) a lack of Vitamin D can lead to poor bone health, which would explain why Western women are still so prone to osteoporosis despite our nation’s high consumption of dairy and calcium supplements.

In the article “Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health”, medical professor and director of the Bone Health Care Clinic at Boston University Medical Center Michael Holick, explains, “The primary physiologic function of vitamin D is to maintain serum calcium and phosphorous levels within the normal physiologic range to support most metabolic functions, neuromuscular transmission and bone mineralization.”

Also, many experts believe the quality of the vitamin D you receive from natural synthesis of the sun’s rays through your skin is far superior to that which you would absorb from a supplement.

It appears more natural sunshine (over more calcium or perhaps even Vitamin D pills) is in order for strong healthy bones.

4. Helps you fall sleep easier.

We’ve talked about how time spent in nature helps combat depression, anxiety and stress before, but according to this article from the National Institutes of Health, getting enough sunshine can actually help re-set your circadian rhythm.

The key lies in getting enough unfiltered bright morning sunlight, which enhances melatonin production (your master sleep hormone), resets your internal clock and helps you fall asleep faster and easier at night.

The article goes on to say that taking bright morning sunlight has been proven effective against insomnia, PMS (vitamin D has a hormone-like effect on the body) and seasonal affective disorder.

I think I’ll take my morning coffee outside from now on.

5. Knocks out annoying skin problems, like psoriasis.

Have you ever struggled with creams and prescriptions for skin-related issues, like eczema or psoriasis, only to find it improved when you went on a beach vacation?

Though less stress may have played a role, it’s more likely you have the sun to thank.

The sun’s rays have natural antimicrobial properties that help naturally clear up common skin issues. As we noted above in the point on asthma, the sun’s UV rays also have an anti-inflammatory effect, making them effective for acute and chronic skin issues.

6. Boosts immunity

Move over Vitamin C! According to new research, the sun may be your best defense against unwanted viruses and pathogens.

Sunshine helps your immunity through two biological functions:

1. Its natural vitamin D helps modulate the immune system and stimulates the body’s natural antimicrobial response (which is why sunlight and cod liver oil were used as part of tuberculosis treatment pre-antibiotics).

2. Exposure to sunlight also triggers your skin’s production of nitric oxide (not to be confused with nitrous oxide, a.k.a. laughing gas), which plays a key role in modulating your immune system AND regulating blood pressure.

 

A growing body of research suggests the lack of sunlight most of us receive in the winter months contributes to the prevalence of seasonal viruses, such as influenza.

So the next time you feel a sore throat or cold coming on, try grabbing a good dose of sunshine before reaching for a bottle of pills.

A personal testimonial to this: the last few times anyone in our family has been sick, they’ve been banished to the hammock in the backyard for at least two hours. Since implementing this “sunshine therapy,” we’ve noticed a huge improvement in the overall speed of recovery. Try it!

7. Reduces your risk of diabetes

It sounds crazy, but according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Vitamin D deficiency has been proven to put people at higher risk for developing diabetes than obesity…wow!

How is this possible? Because Vitamin D plays a critical role in regulating glucose. Therefore, insufficient Vitamin D can lead to glucose metabolism disorders, like diabetes.

Exercise outdoors and you get double the benefit.

These are just 7 of the seemingly endless health benefits of learning to embrace, and not fear, the sun.

And though much of the research focuses on the vitamin-D factor, many experts believe there is a whole lot more to the sun’s healing power than just its most popular vitamin.

Think about it: When we bask in the sun, we are usually engaging in low-stress, pleasurable, health-promoting activities. Yard work, beach vacations, exercise, sunbathing, farm chores, getting a breath of fresh air, taking a bike ride, or just enjoying the sunrise or sunset with a loved one.

When we look at it this way, the “enjoyment” and “happiness” factors of taking sun may have even more to do with its health benefits than science will ever be able to measure.

As it turns out, a tan (even a farmer’s tan) can be a healthy one.

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a freelance health writer, blogger and mother passionate about living a natural life. She is the owner of Holistic Writing Concepts, a copywriting company specializing in the natural health and green living markets. Kristen lives with her husband (a natural product formulator and herb cultivation enthusiast), daughter, and various wildlife in beautiful rural Western North Carolina. Visit her online at: www.holisticwritingconcepts.com

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