The sun has received a fair amount of condemnation over the years due to the risks of excessive exposure leading to skin cancer, but recent studies are showing evidence that the health benefits far outweigh the negative and this is not something we should ignore. In yogic terms, we call the healing science of the sun “Atapa Snana”, and this appreciation of the sun has gone back generations.
With the dark, winter months approaching in some parts of the world it is important to plan to inject some sunshine into our lives with a trip away. Most of us start smiling when we step outside into a beautiful, sunny day and it’s no surprise – a little sunshine every day has great advantages and also helps to prevent serious illnesses.
1. It lowers blood pressure
Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology at the University of Edinburgh found in a recent study that a compound that helps to lower blood pressure called nitric oxide is released with immediate effect as soon as sunlight hits your skin. This is such a landmark study as previously it was thought that sunlight’s only health benefits were to stimulate the production of vitamin D, and so this has proven that it also has the power to prolong our lives by cutting the risk of heart disease and strokes.
2. Sun exposures reduces the risk of some cancers
Not only does an increase in vitamin D lessen your risk of developing cancers such as breast, or colon cancer, but there has also been evidence of remission in certain cases. Combined with a healthy diet, studies have since shown vitamin D supplementation produce a tremendous 60% drop in risk of developing any form of cancer. This confirms the benefits of vitamin D and sun exposure in reducing risk of cancer.
3. It is healing for some skin disorders
Sunlight promotes healing of skin disorders, such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, jaundice and other fungal skin infections. In one study, a four-week outdoor sunbathing therapy was successfully used to significantly clear symptoms of psoriasis in 84% of subjects. While sun exposure has a therapeutic effect on the skin and sunlight has been successfully used to treat skin disorders, this alternative treatment method should be done under medical supervision to prevent negative side-effects of UV radiation and to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks.
4. It improves sleep quality
Our sleep signals are in fact controlled by the movement of the sun, and this is called our circadian rhythm. When exposed to sunlight, our body shuts down its production of the sleep hormone melatonin, only to start producing it again once it gets dark at nighttime, causing us to feel drowsy and ready for bed. If we are restricting our time in the sunshine this causes overproduction of melatonin during the day and therefore a depleted supply to access at bedtime. Wake yourself up with a burst of sunshine if possible to send a message to the pineal gland to stop releasing melatonin.
5. The sun can improve your mood
More and more commonly, we are seeing people being affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression seen mostly in the winter months. It is also the office workers who spend the majority of the sunlight hours stuck indoors that see themselves suffering with low mood. Regular exposure to the sun’s rays for at least 20 minutes per day shows an increased level of the natural anti-depressant serotonin produced that relieves this and other mild forms of depression.
While you enjoy boosting your health with the sun’s power, it’s important to remember that over-exposure is still the number one cause of skin cancer so if you are spending more than 30 minutes in direct sunlight it is a good idea to think about using a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.