Have you ever heard of heliotherapy? Well, I can tell you…that at the end of the Connecticut winter…nothing sounds better than a heliotherapy session. Heliotherapy refers to the therapeutic use of sunlight. The practice of heliotherapy got its start in the late 1700s when a French doctor noticed that his patients’ wounds healed faster with sun exposure. For the next several hundred years, heliotherapy enjoyed a prized place in medicine and was extremely popular throughout the world. Sick patients would spend time in facilities called solariums, where they would gradually be exposed to increasing doses of sunlight in open-air balconies. Doctors all over the world were sold on the benefits of sun therapy as a remedy for just about every problem known to man.
Of course, heavy exposure to sunshine is not without risk. And heliotherapists knew it. In the 1920s, a famous heliotherapist said that sunlight “is like a good champagne. It invigorates and stimulates; indulge to excess, it intoxicates and poisons.” This article by my team at UpWellness will tell you all about what modern science has to say about the benefits of the sun.
There is nothing quite so comforting as the warmth of the sun on a cool day. Wrapped up in those beautiful rays is goodness that your body craves and needs. Not to worry, there are many ways to enjoy all of the benefits of the sun without having to stretch out your towel at the beach or poolside only to go home with a nasty burn. Let’s uncover just some of the reasons why you should turn up the sunshine in your life without going overboard.
While we are used to hearing that too much sun can be harmful to our skin, it is important not to dismiss the sun altogether because there are indeed many benefits to spending time basking in its’ warm rays. It is really all about balance and being smart about the amount of time spent in the sun.
Sunlight and happy hormones
Both sunlight and darkness are responsible for the release of hormones in our brain. The hormone serotonin, which is often referred to as the happy hormone, is connected to happy and calm feelings. Exposure to sunlight is thought to trigger this hormone. Darkness triggers the brain to make melatonin – the hormone that is responsible for helping us sleep.
If we don’t spend enough time in the sun, our levels of serotonin can call, and this is associated with a greater risk of seasonal depression – also known as SAD. When sunlight goes through the eye, it cues areas in the retina to release serotonin. Many people, especially those that live in cold and cloudy climates, can experience depression in the winter due to shorter days and lack of sunlight.
Not surprisingly, one of the main treatments for seasonal depression is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. You can even get a home light therapy box to use that mimics natural sunlight and stimulates the production of serotonin to keep your mood level while reducing the amount of melatonin your body is making.
Sunlight builds strong bones
In addition to helping you be happier and sleep well, exposure to sunlight has a great benefit for your bones. The sun’s rays contain ultraviolet-B radiation that causes our skin to make vitamin D.
One study found that exposure to sunlight for 30 minutes while wearing a bathing suit will result in the following vitamin D levels:
- 50,000 international units (IUs) in most Caucasian people
- 20,000 to 30,000 IUs in tanned people
- 8,000 to 10,000 IUs in dark-skinned people
Vitamin D is integral to bone health and strength. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to rickets in children and osteoporosis and osteomalacia – bone wasting conditions in adults. If you want strong bones, be sure to soak up some sunshine from time to time.
Sunshine is a great remedy for skin conditions
Yes, too much sun can cause issues with your skin, but just the right amount of exposure also has the ability to remedy some irritating skin conditions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sun exposure has been recommended by physicians to help with acne, jaundice, eczema, and psoriasis.
Sunlight and cancer prevention
Again, it may seem paradoxical to recommend sunshine for cancer, but it is true that moderate amounts of sun do seem to have preventative benefits when it comes to certain types of cancer. Researchers have found that persons living in places with little sunlight are more likely to develop the following cancers when compared to persons living where there is more sunshine:
- Colon cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
More conditions that may be aided by sunshine prescriptions
Research has revealed some additional conditions that may be helped by sunlight therapy, including:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Understanding moderation is important
When it comes to reaping all the benefits that the sun has to offer, one must be smart and consider moderation. Although researchers don’t know the exact amount of time that everyone should stay outside, defining excess time spent in the sun is based on two things. The first is the type of skin that you have, and the second is how direct the sun’s rays are.
Those with fair skin will get sunburned more quickly than those with darker skin. Also, you are more likely to be burned if you go outside when the sun’s rays are more direct – this is generally between 10 am and 4 pm.
The WHO states that getting between five and fifteen minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face a few times a week is enough to reap the vitamin D-boosting benefits. Keep in mind that to do this, the sun must penetrate the skin. Wearing sunscreen will interfere with this.
However, if you are outside for some time – more than 15 minutes for some people, it is vital to protect your skin. Wear a hat and long sleeve shirt and consider using an organic sunscreen.
Early morning sun the best
Getting up early to greet the sunrise is a great way to soak up some rays without overexposing yourself. Consider enjoying early morning sunshine on your patio with your morning cup of coffee. Not only will it help you start your day in a fantastic mood, but it will give you a healthy glow and provide significant protective benefits!
-The UpWellness Team