But what we may not realize is that warmer weather, along with being fun, can have a direct effect on our health, wellbeing, and even on our ability to prevent and treat different conditions.
We know that overexposure to the sun has been historically linked to increased incidences of skin cancer, premature aging of the skin, and other negative consequences. But research has also found that, in the right amounts (which are different for everyone, so consult your doctor before you go out and play in the sun), direct exposure to sunlight can have many positive effects.
Exposure to sunlight is believed to trigger responses in our brains regarding the production of serotonin, the hormone associated with happy moods and increased feelings of focus. When our days are shorter, as in winter, we don’t get as much exposure to sunlight, and our levels of serotonin may drop. Sometimes this results in a form of depression called SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. During the warmer months, however, we have the chance to be outside more with the sun, allowing us to produce more serotonin, or happy hormones. Increased serotonin production can leads to a greater sense of wellbeing and satisfaction, which can make us feel more productive, happy, and at peace.
Just as sunlight triggers serotonin production, our melatonin levels are also affected by exposure to daylight. Melatonin is the hormone that lets us know that it’s time to quiet down and get ready for bed. It's produced in our brains during the dark hours. During the winter months, when the days are shorter and we have longer periods of darkness, our bodies produce more melatonin, making us feel more tired and, maybe, more blue. If we give in to the longer periods of darkness and oversleep or over-rest, we disrupt our natural sleep cycle and it becomes harder to motivate ourselves to move, get outside, and get on track with a proper sleep cycle. While during the warmer months we’re better able to manage our sleep cycles, as we enjoy the outdoors and have more regulated levels of melatonin. Which is great, as when we're well rested, we are more likely to engage in more mindful habits, eat better, and engage in healthier behaviors and relationships.
Excessive exposure to sunlight has been linked with increased instances of certain diseases. But sunlight, in moderation, has actually shown to be beneficial for many other conditions. Some people with certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne may benefit from sunlight exposure as part of a treatment regimen. It’s also been suggested, though not conclusively studied, that exposure to sunlight may benefit people with diseases and conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid conditions, and inflammatory bowel disease. Take your healthy lifestyle choices like good nutrition, yoga, or biking, outside for additional benefits to your already great practices.
Vitamin D is imperative for good bone health. In young children prolonged vitamin D deficiency can cause a disease called rickets, characterized by delayed growth and possible skeletal deformities such as bowed legs. Vitamin D is also important for bone health in adults: According to researchers, low levels of vitamin D “will precipitate and exacerbate osteoporosis in both men and women and cause the painful bone disease osteomalacia.” As we get older, it becomes apparent that our bodies aren't just going to take care of themselves. We may eat right and be mindful in our yoga practice, but we can't forget that bone health is a vital part of healthy aging.
The World Health Organization recommends getting between five to 15 minutes of direct sunlight two to three times per week. Going to be out longer than that? Put on a cute hat, throw on some shades, and slap on a worthy SPF. You can still enjoy the sun—just remember to do so in moderation.