Take nature’s medicine now

Hillary Hetrick, Staff Writer

Today’s indoor, sedentary lifestyle has slowly taken hold of people’s health. It’s not just physical health. Mental health has suffered just as much, if not more. Many people work long hours to make enough money to have all the shiny new gadgets, eat out all the time, go to parties and have a nice car. Slowly, but surely health is put on the sidelines. Less time spent outdoors has presented itself in getting less sunshine.

What’s sunshine have to do with health? That bright star in the sky does more than provide light, warmth and life to our planet. It helps improve our sleep and helps boost our mood. Being outside for at least five minutes a day is enough to help us feel better.  Most importantly it gives us vitamin D.

Sunlight naturally boosts serotonin, a chemical that your brain produces. Serotonin enhances energy, keeps you focused and has a calming effect. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that relays signals from different areas of the brain. It’s also found in our digestive system. 

According to an article on Webmd.com, “doctors sometimes treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other types of depression linked to low levels of serotonin with natural or artificial light.” 

Ironically, the abbreviation makes sense because if you don’t get enough sunlight, your mood suffers and makes you sad. Life’s stressful, so if what we need is supplied by nature, why not partake in it?

The sun’s ultraviolet rays help your body synthesize vitamin D, a nutrient that is important to keep your bones and hair strong. It also supports your immune system. If you’re getting enough sunlight, your body will produce vitamin D, and your immune system uses that to stay strong. 

According to sciencedaily.com, “The immune system defends the body from foreign, invading organisms [and] promote[s] protective immunity.”  

This translates to getting sick less often and we can all benefit from this. If getting adequate sunlight can create this chain reaction, then maybe it can give us a better defense against the new coronavirus. 

Getting outside daily can also help with sleep quality. Just the sensation of seeing light, especially sunlight, helps regulate your body’s internal clock. Early morning light is best. 

The WebMD article also said, “Early morning sunlight in particular seems to help people get to sleep at night.” 

As we get older, it becomes more important to get sunlight because our eyes are less able to take in light the older we get. This translates to having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep at night.

Sleepfoundation.org said, “Humans evolved spending a lot of time outside, where they were exposed to light beginning with the rising sun.” 

This makes sense because people rose with the sun and went to bed after the sun went down. I believe people were more in tune with their bodies and had less trouble sleeping when they were exposed to sunlight regularly. One guideline that I found helpful was also given by sleepfoundation.org. It said, “When you’re ready to begin the day, exposing your body to the sun will not only help alert the brain and set you in motion, it will also help you sleep later on.” 


But in order to reap the benefits of sunlight, it must be done correctly. I’m not condoning going outside excessively. Five to 15 minutes is the maximum for light-skinned people, or 30 minutes for dark-skinned people. Too much sun exposure can cause sunburn, heat stroke or melanoma. 

According to WebMD, “You can stay out longer and get the same effect if you use sunscreen.” 

It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor. The answer to how much sunlight is beneficial is different based on age, health history, diet and skin tone.

We spend way too much time indoors. If sunlight improves sleep, mood, vitamin D levels and immune health, then why don’t we get outside more?  If going outside is too difficult, get an artificial light that mimics natural light. Are our busy lives the culprit of not taking care of ourselves or are we just too caught up in self-gratification? It only takes a minimum of five minutes a day to get the benefits of sunlight. Even people working in office buildings get a lunch break. Spend it outside enjoying the sunlight. Put down that shiny gadget, and go for a walk.