The Benefits of the Sun – and How You Can Recreate Them in Winter
We are all well versed on the dangers of spending too much time in the sun – and these are very real dangers. However, if you’ve ever spent cold winter feeling indescribably lethargic, you’ll understand the effects the sun can have on your body. As human beings we crave exposure to sunlight – and that’s perhaps why cities with warm climates top the list of the best cities in which to live.
So what makes the sunshine so attractive for a healthy lifestyle, and how can we recreate these effects during the winter months?
There is more to sunshine than tanning – we all know that scorching your skin to a crisp is no more beneficial to your health than lighting up a cigarette. Obviously, it is sensible to use precautions in the sun – like sunscreen, and sticking to the shade during the hottest parts of the day – but studies in recent years have indicated that sunshine boasts health benefits that outweigh the skin cancer risks.
Sunshine triggers the production of Vitamin D in humans (converting it from cholesterol) which is essential for the absorption of calcium in our bodies – which in turn builds strong and healthy bones. The deficiency of Vitamin D is responsible for a vast range of health problems, including osteoporosis, heart problems, aching bones and muscles, and factures. It has recently also been linked to cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Tip for winter – During the winter months you can top up your Vitamin D intake by consuming lots of oily fish, egg yolks, fortified cereals and health supplements.
Mental health benefits
Sunshine boasts benefits to an individual’s mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder is reported to have an effect on 7% of people. Also known as S.A.D, this is a depression which affects people during the winter months, causing problems from lethargy and over-eating to anxiety and mood changes – and a whole host of other symptoms besides.
Tip for winter – The majority of people who are affected suffer most during the dark months of December, January and February. However, symptoms can be relieved through the use of highly intensive lighting that imitates sunlight. Normal lightbulbs used around the home or office aren’t bright enough to aid sufferers, at around only 200 to 500 lux – a light box however, can provide a blast of sunlight of up to 10,000 lux.
In around 85% of cases, light therapy is an effective way of alleviating the symptoms of S.A.D – ideal if you live in an area where winters are long and overcast. What’s more, you can use a lightbox for several hours a day while getting on with other tasks such as reading, knitting or ironing. And it’s a bit cheaper than emigrating.
The final thing that makes sunshine so beneficial to health? Going outside on a fine day is so much more pleasant. This encourages us to get out and jog, play catch, or even just drum up the motivation to walk the dog – none of which are quite so appealing on wet and windy wintery days.
Tips for winter – Don’t neglect your exercise regime just because you can’t get outside. Join a gym, do an exercise DVD, invest in a Wii Fit – and when the sun briefly shows itself, make an effort to get outside and celebrate.