The Effects of Sunlight Exposure on Your Body

In his latest article, Amaan Akhtar discusses both the positive and negative aspects of sunlight exposure on the body. Find out how a little ray of sunshine can go a long way for your health! 

As this summer graces us with a sizzling streak of hot days, many people flock outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. While we all know that a healthy dose of sunlight exposure is good for you and too much can be dangerous for the body, how much do we actually know apart from that?

The Benefits

The truth is that sunlight exposure gives us a myriad of health benefits. For example, many of us know that the sun promotes vitamin D production, but its importance in the body is heavily understated: it affects 10% of genes in the human body and plays a huge role in promoting bone and teeth health by aiding the absorption of the minerals calcium and phosphorous.

Unfortunately, due to the climate, there seems to be a high vitamin D deficiency within the UK that affects 1 in 5 individuals aged over 11 years old. This is a serious issue since this deficiency may be associated with the risk of developing diseases such as certain types of cancer, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and diabetes. Although, it is important to note that this is not a causal effect but rather a possibility – and that is still something to be concerned about. Nonetheless, it cannot be stressed enough how important this vitamin is to our health.

Following on from this, sunlight exposure has been shown to give a better night’s sleep. It is vital for maintaining our internal clock (circadian rhythm) during a 24-hour cycle of light and darkness, which in turn causes physical, mental and behavioural changes within us. The sleep-wakefulness cycle is dependent on morning sunlight because natural daylight aids the body to reset its active daytime phase, allowing it to maintain a consistent pattern of energy levels throughout each day.

Furthermore, the sun can enhance our mood by boosting a natural increase in serotonin levels, which is responsible for making us active and alert. By spending time in sunlight this summer, you can avoid the winter blues: the body stocks up on Vitamin D3, a precursor which yields the production of vitamin D several months later and causes higher serotonin levels. This in turn can prevent seasonal affective disorder, depression and mood variations, which commonly occur during the winter period. For this reason, many individuals who suffer from the above conditions usually use light therapy during winter when there is less daylight.

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There are also several other health benefits that the sun provides: ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sun rays can heal skin conditions, protect from melanoma, lower blood pressure and also prevent the formation of certain types of cancer.

Sunlight Exposure and Moderation

It is important to note that although the sun provides us with all of these benefits, it can also be very damaging to our health if we have too much exposure.

In fact, over exposure to sunlight is dangerous because UV radiation can penetrate through skin and damage skin cell DNA. As a result, an accumulative effect of this can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. In spite of this, the situation isn’t as simple as you may think: the effect of sunlight overexposure depends on skin type and the direction of the sun’s rays. For instance, those who have pale skin, get sunburnt easily (mainly adolescents) and don’t tan have a higher risk of developing certain skin-related cancers. Additionally, it is much worse if we suddenly get more exposure from the sun at once than being steadily exposed over time.

Under these circumstances, general sunlight exposure results in ‘photoaging’ – a combination of age and sunlight that damages skin over time, that leads to the development of wrinkles and rough, dry skin.  

So, if excess sunlight and little to no sunlight is bad for our health, how do we counteract this?

Our best bet is to make the most of sunlight during this summer, but doing it in a safe manner. It only takes 10 -15 minutes of sunlight about 2-3 times per week, to produce the ideal amount of vitamin D levels for an individual. This is typically the case for the majority of lighter-skinned people, however people with darker skin have to spend longer in the sun to produce the same levels of vitamin D; since it takes longer for the UV rays to penetrate their skin. Though if you choose to be outside for longer than that, then always protect your skin with sunscreen with a protection factor at least SPF 15 and/or wear protective clothing.  

Overall, by ensuring that we have a moderate amount of sunlight per week this summer, we can gain all of these extraordinary health benefits and more. Everyone loves spending time in the sun, and it should be encouraging for anyone at any age to make the most of those hot summer days. But it is equally important that we learn to keep our skin safe while we enjoy the glorious rays of sunlight, wherever we are in the world.

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