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I’ve mentioned before that days and days of cloudy gray skies have a negative effect on me. Those symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder? I get those during the winter.
After an abundance of overcast skies this month and days of freezing cold, I was ready to get out of the house when the sun shone brightly today and temps reached the low 60s. I knew exactly how to beat the winter blues and boost my health at the same time.
This is walk number 26, Walk in Sunshine.
Discovering Healthy Sun Practices
We owe cats our gratitude. Thanks to a cat that Danish scientist Niels Ryberg Finsen observed, sunlight became recognized as a source for healing.
Finsen suffered from a metabolic illness that would eventually end his life at age 44. However, 20 years before that, as a young medical student, he noticed that cats tend to gravitate to sunny locations. His observations led him to experiment on himself with the sun’s rays. Finsen concluded that sunlight has a useful effect on health.
Finsen won the 1903 Nobel Prize for his light therapy work. As his studies spread, 36 heliotherapy centers, also called sunbathing clinics, sprang up in the Swiss Alps. Patients exposed to sunlight often experienced encouraging results.
Today we tend to avoid sunlight, for good reason. Too much time in the sun isn’t good for us. However, up to 70% of the population is deficient in sunlight’s best known by-product, vitamin D. And scientists now know that isn’t the only benefit from limited sun exposure.
Although it’s only one of the benefits of sun exposure, let’s start with how important vitamin D is.
This essential vitamin is created when ultra violet light in sunlight touches the skin. The manufactured vitamin D travels to the liver and then the kidneys before becoming a hormone called calcidiol. This hormone regulates levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body, mineralizes bones and helps with the assimilation of vitamin A. However, calcidol has a relatively short life span in the body so we need frequent “doses” of sunlight to maintain adequate levels. Scientists recommend three to thirty minutes of sunlight a day, depending on skin sensitivity.
We learned during the recent COVID pandemic that vitamin D is crucial to the immune system. The immune system fights off pathogens by creating antibodies and also protects against everyday exposure to germs and viruses. The stronger the immune system, the better the body can resist illnesses during the winter months.
Additional Benefits of Sunlight
But there is more!
Heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, several types of cancers, depression, dementia and multiple autoimmune disorders are linked to low levels of vitamin D AND lack of sufficient sunlight. A 20 year study of 30,000 Swedish women identified a significantly higher death rate for those who avoided the sun.
It is now believed that sunlight activates T cells beneath the surface of the skin. These defender cells move into the blood, circulating throughout the body, boosting health.
Sunlight also plays a vital role in producing melatonin which helps us to sleep well and wake refreshed.
And sunshine triggers the feel good hormone serotonin. That’s another reason why we feel so good when we are outdoors in sunlight.
Walk in Sunshine Tips
To benefit most from the benefits of sunlight, take a short walk whenever the sun shines, with sleeves rolled up and skin free from sunscreen.
Wear sunglasses or a wide brimmed hat to shield eyes from too much light.
Avoid sunburn by covering back up after 10 to 30 minutes, depending on skin type and sensitivity. Out walking, set a timer. When it goes off pull sleeves back down, cover up with a lightweight shirt or jacket and/or apply sunscreen.
Avoid highly polluted areas. Air pollution significantly reduces the amount of UVB and weakens the formation of vitamin D.
Morning sunlight helps to set circadian rhythms and improves sleep at night.
If your skin isn’t used to direct sunlight, build up exposure slowly. Start with five minutes and work up to 10 to 15 minutes.
If you are concerned about not wearing sunscreen, apply a mineral sunscreen that protects from UV rays without hindering the production of vitamin D.
My Walk in Sunshine
I felt an immediate boost in mood today when I woke to sunlight streaming in through the window. In the late afternoon, I drove to my favorite walking location, Mercy Park. Temperatures hovered around 62 degrees.
Carrying my metal water container and pushing my shirtsleeves up, I walked around the park for about 20 minutes, savoring the feel of sunlight on my face and arms. It felt SO GOOD to walk in sunshine. Apparently others thought so too. Dozens of people walked the path around the pond.
I needed that walk in sunshine today, as much as I needed nutritious food. I’ll be watching the weather forecast as we move into a new month and taking advantage of all the sunshine filled days.
If walking provides an important form of exercise and relaxation for you, then 52 Ways to Walk is for you!
The activities in the book are so varied and the information in each chapter is well presented and motivational.
Are you getting outside on sunny days and boosting your health?
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share experiences from my own personal healing journey.