Over the years, sunshine has gotten a bad rap. The fear of ultraviolet rays leading to skin cancer has often resulted in people not getting enough exposure to the sun. This is unfortunate, because sunlight is one’s of nature’s greatest and most abundant gifts.

Personally, when I’m feeling down, overwhelmed or stressed, getting outside in the sunshine — even for a few minutes — lifts my mood and clears my head. This is not just because I’m breaking my routine or it feels good. Research has shown there are proven emotional, cognitive and overall health benefits (many related to vitamin D) linked to catching some rays.

Because of this, many doctors are now adopting the viewpoint that the advantages of regular sun exposure (without sunscreen) may balance out and even outweigh the risks.

According to an article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, “The best-known benefit of sunlight is its ability to boost the body’s vitamin D supply; most cases of vitamin D deficiency are due to lack of outdoor sun exposure. At least 1,000 different genes governing virtually every tissue in the body are now thought to be regulated by 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25[OH]D), the active form of the vitamin, including several involved in calcium metabolism and neuromuscular and immune system functioning.”

Emotional Well-Being

Sunlight triggers the body to produce more of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which directly affects our mood. On cloudy days and in the winter, the body produces less serotonin often leading to feelings of low energy, sadness, depression and even anxiety. This has led many people to find ways to get the UV exposure they need by using a light therapy box. It mimics sunlight and helps the body stay balanced.

Cognitive Well-Being

A study from the University of Science and Technology of China found that moderate UV exposure improves learning and memory in mice. This is good news for all of us, but it’s especially relevant in the field of brain injuries and dementia.

Overall Health

Sunlight is so good for bones (vitamin D helps the body process calcium) that the National Osteoporosis Society launched The Sunlight Campaign to encourage people to get some sun exposure every day between May and September.

Sunlight has also been shown to be good for the heart. Studies have found that UV exposure releases nitric oxide (a signaling molecule between cells), which decreases blood pressure and increases blood flow and heart rate in humans.

In addition to the above benefits, some studies have been done to see how exposure to UV rays may also help us fight off viruses. At this point, not enough is known to definitively state sunlight’s effect on COVID-19. But it can’t hurt, within reason.

Now that we know some of the wonderful advantages to spending time in the sun, it’s important to know just how much exposure is good for us. Some experts suggest that 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight three times a week is enough to keep your body healthy. A lot depends on skin color, the amount of exposed skin, the time of day, the time of year, and so on. As with everything in life, common sense and moderation is the key. Ideally, you want to:

  • Avoid peak times of day when the sun’s rays are more direct.
  • Avoid overexposure which would lead to sunburn and blistering.
  • Carry sunblock with you if you plan to be outside for long periods of the day.