In the past, benefits of sun exposure were thought to be limited only to vitamin D. Below are the top 5 benefits of being in sunlight, apart from getting the immunity boosting-bone protecting-anticancer agent vitamin D.
UV radiation from the sun induces the production of nitric oxide (NO) which is responsible for a variety of effects such as vasodilation, meaning widening of blood vessels, with a consequent decrease of blood pressure.
It has been found that UV rays from the sun can cause release of endorphins in the body. These are the ‘feel-good’ hormones which are released whenever there is a rewarding state. So folks, those times when you feel low or depressed you know what to do!
Noteworthy properties of sunlight exposure include its analgesic effects. In a prospective study of patients undergoing spinal surgery, when exposed to 46% higher intensity of natural sunlight during their hospital recovery period, perceived marginally less pain and required use of fewer analgesic medications (6).
Solar exposure helps in improving sleep by the effect of melatonin. It is a hormone produced in the skin through sun exposure and which helps with inducing sleep. UV rays induce the production of melatonin along with regulation of the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock which manages the sleep-wake cycle.
It is known that both UVA and UVB have a direct immunity suppressing effect. This mechanism may explain the benefit of sun exposure in the protection from certain autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis.
Being in sunlight triggers the release of brain hormones too, one of them is serotonin. Sunshine is thought to increase the levels of serotonin in the brian which is associated with boosting mood and helping you feel calm and focused.
In terms of cognitive benefits, a study published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found that subjects who were exposed to six hours of sunlight felt significantly more alert at the beginning of the evening and less sleepy at the end of the evening compared with those who were exposed to artificial light.
A study from the journal Medical Hypotheses concluded that specific wavelengths of UVR, experienced at critical times in development as at conception or early gestation, and with specific intensity or rate of change, modulates the expression of human diseases and affect the length of our lives (7).
Lastly, in what might be one of the most phenomenal discoveries of our time, findings point to man’s ability to derive energy directly from the sun- a constant, daily, guaranteed source of energy.
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of sunlight exposure, the main question that arises is what about skin cancer? Well, for every person who dies of skin cancer, more than 100 die from cardiovascular diseases. Melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers, accounts for only 1-3 percent of diagnosed cases; and curiously, Jacobsen reports (8), people who work outdoors have half the melanoma rate of indoor workers. Is skin cancer something to be afraid of? Or is it an unnecessary fear-mongering campaign vilifying sunlight exposure created by the sunscreen industry?
Sunlight reduces the risk of prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. It improves circadian rhythms. It reduces inflammation and dampens autoimmune responses. It improves virtually every mental condition you can think of. And it’s free.
Skeptical? Just think how our ancestors lived in bygone centuries. They were outside all the time in hot and cold climates, relying on melanin as a natural protector for the skin. Jacobsen writes, "Our dark-skinned African ancestors produced so much melanin that they never had to worry about the sun." Melanin, the central pigment within our skin, and distributed throughout our bodies, is one of the most interesting biomolecules identified thus far.
Melanin’s proposed ability to convert sunlight into metabolic energy—akin to the way chlorophyll harvests sunlight in plants—means that our species should be reclassified from heterotrophic to photoheterotrophic, and, even more significantly, may raise the prospect that melanin offers protection against ionizing radiation while transforming it into metabolically useful energy.
It turns out that getting a bit of sunlight on your bare skin, without a protective layer of sunscreen, offers numerous health benefits.