The Health Benefits of Sunshine

As the academic year draws to a close, smiles can be seen everywhere you look. (Well, that’s granted the people you see aren’t too stressed out with last-minute papers and presentations.) Why all the happy faces? Is it the end of the semester? The prospect of summer? The fun end-of-year events going on around campus? Or is it the gorgeous weather that has finally decided to show up?

Sunshine has been scientifically proven to cheer you up. If you have ever heard of seasonal affective disorder, that’s a prime example of how dependent on sunlight we can be. Seasonal affective disorder (ASD) is a seasonally-induced depression that affects some people in the wintertime, when they don’t have much exposure to the outdoors or to sunlight.

Sunshine boosts serotonin levels in the body, which is your body’s natural happiness hormone. And speaking of hormones, everyone knows how your body releases endorphins — another happiness hormone — when you exercise. Well, your body actually creates more endorphins when you exercise outside in the sun as compared to exercising indoors under artificial lighting. Just one more reason to get active outdoors this summer!

Not only does sunshine make us happier, it also provides us with vitamin D. We get about 90 to 95 percent of our vitamin D from the sun, because your body naturally produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. You can also get vitamin D from food and supplements, but sunshine is the most effective way to get enough of this important vitamin. Vitamin D regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, and maintaining your immune system. It does this by encouraging the production of white blood cells, which help to boost your immune system and fight infection. Since vitamin D also helps you absorb more calcium, it is important for the normal development and growth of teeth and bones. People with vitamin D deficiencies are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, or weak bones.

Sunscreen is important to wear if you know you’re going to be outdoors for long periods of time in the summer, but studies have shown that a reasonable amount of UV ray exposure actually reduces your risk of several cancers. This is due mostly to the sun’s vitamin D-creating potential. According to Michael Holick, professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine: “(Vitamin D) is essential for absorbing calcium, keeping our bones healthy, and for protecting against serious chronic diseases later in life such as osteoporosis, Type II diabetes, multiple sclerosis and many common cancers.”

Professor Holick also advises that we should go out in the sun without sunblock for between five and 15 minutes a day, at least three times a week in spring and summer, to boost our vitamin D levels. So there you have it! Sunshine is really, really good for you. And hopefully you don’t have too much trouble getting outside in the next few months. Take advantage of the mental break and the beautiful weather — your physical and emotional well-being will thank you!

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