One of the oldest and best-known remedies for a variety of maladies is exposure to sun. Perhaps you can relate to the happiness felt on that first day of true spring sunshine after a long winter of dark skies and cold temperatures. If you have felt that first-hand, then you have an idea of the wonderful healing powers of the sun.
It seems strange that something as easily accessible (and free!) as the sun can help build bone strength, slow osteoporosis, or even ease pain, among other things. Strange but true. We humans (and most other vertebrates as well) need Vitamin D in order to maintain musculoskeletal health throughout life. Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as the sunshine vitamin, for good reason! It is estimated that most of us get upwards of 90 percent of the required amount of Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Studies dating way back to the 17th century showed evidence that rickets, a disease affecting bone development and strength especially in children, is best treated by sun exposure. We now know that the sunshine vitamin is also critical in the maintenance of muscle strength and in the prevention of many diseases such as type I diabetes, lots of kinds of cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, heart disease, and even kidney disease (as evidenced in studies conducted at Boston University School of Medicine, by Dr. Michael Holick, 2005). And check this out: patients who recuperate in rooms filled with sunshine heal faster and experience less pain and stress than those who don’t get the sunshine treatment (Walch et al, 2005). Holy cow and duh at the same time! Even Florence Nightingale knew that – she campaigned to have hospitals built to include lots of sunshine.
So, those are all pretty good reasons to dose on sunshine, don’t you think? But, wait! There’s more! Sunshine can also just make you FEEL better! You already know this – first day of spring sunshine and all, referenced early in this fascinating reminder of things that you probably already know but may not think about enough. Here is why: sunshine triggers the release of serotonin. Serotonin is the major “feel-good” chemical produced by the brain. The more sunshine, the more serotonin. The more serotonin, the more feel-good.
You KNOW I am not advising you to go lay out in the sun all day so you won’t be depressed. That’s silly. I remember one time we were discussing this very topic in one of my psychology classes, and one of my students asked if I thought it was a good idea to hit the tanning beds in the wintertime in order to get that coveted vitamin D. Seriously? Isn’t that like taking up smoking as a way to lose weight? We know that too much exposure to direct sunlight can lead to skin cancer, so there must be some happy medium, right? Wear a hat to protect your face, ears, and neck. Wear sunscreen. Limit your time in the sun. Avoid sunburn. Be smart! It’s not rocket science.
But oh, make sure you feel the sun on your face every day if you can! Run, hike, pull weeds, lie in that hammock in the shade, walk a few blocks instead of automatically jumping in the car, go for a swim, play! Let that serotonin free! You canNOT overdose on Vitamin D from the sun! And while you’re freeing the serotonin and feelin’ good, you’ll also be working on your bone and muscle strength, easing pain, and staving off disease.
Sunshine. Just do it.
peace and love,
Genuis SJ, Canadian Family Physician Médecin De Famille Canadien [Can Fam Physician], ISSN: 0008-350X, 2006 Apr; Vol. 52, pp. 422-3, 429-31; Publisher: College of Family Physicians of Canada
Holick MF, Seminars In Dialysis [Semin Dial], ISSN: 0894-0959, 2005 Jul-Aug; Vol. 18 (4), pp. 266-75; Publisher: Blackwell Science.
Walch JM, Rabin BS, Day R, Williams JN, Choi K, Kang JD. The effect of sunlight on postoperative analgesic medication use: a prospective study of patients undergoing spinal surgery. Psychosom Med. 2005;67:156–163.