The sun and our body rhythms
Our body’s circadian rhythm, or ability to sync our internal body clock to the environment, depends on the sun to help regulate several body functions. As we have evolved as a species, the sun has played a critical role in developing biological responses to light and dark, influencing our sleep-wake cycles, mood and immune response. Lack of exposure to natural light, or overexposure to artificial light, can distort these natural cycles and wreak havoc on both physical and mental health. “For optimal health benefits, get sun exposure first thing in the morning,” says Mariah Foderaro, health coach and founder of Your Health Edit.
Our culture has made us wary of the sun’s rays. Sunscreen, while important to block extended exposure to the sun, will also block the healthy aspects of the sun, most notably the absorption of Vitamin D. “Spend time outside before you apply sunscreen or wear sunglasses to get the benefit of the sun,” Mariah says.
How much time you need in the sun will depend on factors such as time of the year, how much of your skin is exposed, and your skin tone, says Lori Huffman, registered kinesiotherapist with the American Kinesiotherapy Association. “As we get older, it takes longer to absorb, so you need to be out in the sun longer to reap the benefits,” she says.
Drink in the Sunny D
“The most optimal way to get vitamin D is through direct sun exposure,” Mariah says. Vitamin D is critical for bone health, as calcium can only be absorbed when Vitamin D is present. Lack of Vitamin D can lead to brittle bones and an increased risk for osteoporosis. Additionally, Vitamin D impacts brain activity at the cellular level and supports muscle function and immune health.
As we age, we need more Vitamin D, thus increasing our need for exposure to natural light. Vitamin D is not found naturally in many foods, so sun exposure is the best way to get this nutrient. The recommended daily amount of Vitamin D for adults is 600 international units (IU) and 800 IU for people over 70. A blood test offered by your doctor can determine your Vitamin D levels.
If you find you are deficient in Vitamin D, heading outside to soak up the sun with direct exposure to your skin and eyes is best, but supplements are also available. “If you do take a supplement, take it in the morning paired with a healthy fat for optimal absorption,” advises Mariah.
By Tami Pyles | Photo by Zwaddi
P.S. Find out what our sources also say about the sun and our health here.