Sun exposure has gotten a bit of a bad rap, but have you ever noticed how good you feel when you’ve been outside in the sun? Spending time in the sun has marked effects on mood, but did you know that it can also promote longevity?
The third S in our longevity support “BEAMSSSS” protocol is Sun!
Sun exposure promotes longevity:
Studies have shown that people with more sun exposure have a lower mortality rate. For example, a study conducted in Sweden found that individuals with more sun exposure had a 20-30% lower risk of dying from any cause than those with less sun exposure. They found that lack of sun exposure was a risk factor for early death on a par with smoking cigarettes! (Lindqvist et al., 2016)
One of the ways that sun exposure promotes longevity is by reducing the risk of certain diseases. Studies have found that individuals with higher levels of sun exposure have a lower risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. (Pilz et al., 2016) Research has also found that sun exposure can help to improve insulin sensitivity, which is essential for preventing and managing diabetes. (Holick, 2010) Additionally, sun exposure can help to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, such as breast and prostate cancer. (Grant and Garland, 2006)
Sun exposure increases the production of certain hormones in the body. Sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D, which is essential for overall health. Vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system, improve bone health, and reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. (Holick, 2007)
Additionally, sunlight exposure increases nitric oxide and serotonin, which helps to improve blood flow, reduce blood pressure and improve mood. Can we get a “Woo hoo”?
Sunlight as a healing tool:
Pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale once said, “It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick that second only to their need of fresh air is their need of light…And that it is not only light but direct sunlight they want.”
Similarly, before antibiotic therapy for tuberculosis was developed, sanatoriums were set up to treat patients with sunlight. Doctors noted that patients who lay in the morning sun gained more weight and went home sooner. This became standard practice around the world.
Today, many forward-thinking researchers continue to promote strategic exposure to sunlight. For example, Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, has said, “Getting sunlight in your eyes first thing in the morning is absolutely vital to mental and physical health. It is perhaps the most important thing that any and all of us can and should do in order to promote metabolic well-being, promote the positive function of your hormone system, and get your mental health steering in the right direction.”
How much is too much?
While sun exposure is important for overall health, it’s also necessary to be smart in the sun and avoid sunburn. Sunburn can increase the risk of melanoma, a type of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends getting some sun every day but avoiding sunburn by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen or sunblock with an SPF of at least 30.
In addition, the best time to be in the sun is usually before 10 am and after 4 pm, as the sun’s rays are less intense during these times. You can also take advantage of the sun by planning outdoor activities during these times, such as going for a walk or bike ride, gardening, or even having a picnic.
Below are three Action Steps to implement today to bring a healthy amount of sunshine into your life. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try out our “Lightning Strikes” as well.
- Get 5-10 minutes of morning sunlight in your eyes every day. This is best done by going outside (not looking through a window).
- Spend 10-20 minutes basking in the sunshine at other times during the day. Even better – pair your sun time with exercise for an even more considerable nitric oxide boost!
- If you’re at risk for sunburn, wear protective clothing, use mineral sunblock, or find some shade – a little sun is fantastic but too much sun can be damaging!
- Opt for a mineral sunblock (vs. a chemical sunscreen) to protect your face, neck, and hands from the sun. These areas get a lot more sun than you think. Look for formulations with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (ex: Young Goose’s Bio-Shield spf 40)
- Watch the sunset, then opt for low levels of light in the hours afterward to keep your circadian rhythms on track for a good night’s sleep.
- If you live somewhere cloudy or dark, consider using a red light therapy device (ex: Koze Health) or a light therapy lamp to get you through the dark days.
Remember, aging gratefully starts with taking care of yourself today, building your better tomorrow, and being curious about the benefits of sunlight. By being intentional about sun exposure and protecting yourself from sunburn, you can promote overall health and well-being and, we’re not gonna lie, spending time in the sun feels downright incredible!
By Amy Killen, MD
Grant, W. B., & Garland, C. F. (2006). The association of solar ultraviolet B (UVB) with reducing risk of cancer: multifactorial ecologic analysis of geographic variation in age-adjusted cancer mortality rates. Anticancer Research, 26(4A), 2687-2699.
Holick, M. F. (2007). Vitamin D deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 357(3), 266-281.
Holick, M. F. (2010). Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88(2), 491S-499S.
Lindqvist, P. G., Epstein, E., Nielsen, K., Landin-Olsson, M., Ingvar, C., & Olsson, H. (2016). Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for all-cause mortality: results from the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort. Journal of Internal Medicine, 280(4), 375-387.
Pilz, S., Marz, W., Cashman, K. D., Kiely, M. E., Whiting, S. J., Holick, M. F., & Grant, W. B. (2018). Rationale and plan for vitamin D food fortification: a review and guidance paper. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 9, 373.