SUNLIGHT AND YOUR HEALTH
Heliotherapy- using the healing properties of the sun- is an ancient therapy still effective and available today, for free. Although we have been conditioned to avoid the sun by well meaning doctors, the sun is essential to all life on earth, and its full spectrum of light is something our bodies need as much as air and water. We have evolved with the sun and our indoor, artificially lit lifestyles, and sun phobia, are depriving many people of this essential healing nutrient and likely contributing to many more diseases , including cancers, than avoidance of sunshine is saving us from.
Throughout history sunlight has been recognised as a healing force. Ancient Indian Vedics, Egyptians and Greeks all recognised the value of the sun and their lifestyles were integrated with and valued regular sun exposure. We recognise that it helps our bodies produce Vitamin D which is an essential nutrient, but we have forgotten its many other benefits, many of which we don’t necessarily understand. Before antibiotics, sunlight was used to kill pathogens, and in the 19th century it was common for patients to be prescribed some sun exposure as part of their healing prescription. Patients with tuberculosis were often sent to Swiss clinics- high altitudes give more access to stronger sunlight- to heal. Even now, it is recognised that sunshine will help patients with tuberculosis, the world’s most common deadly infection, along with antibiotics, to heal more quickly. In World War 2 doctors found that wounds healed more quickly when exposed to sunlight. Somehow we have forgotten.
Regular exposure to sunlight can decrease high blood pressure, increase the metabolism of cholesterol therefore lowering it, lower the risk of strokes, decrease the risk of cancer mortality, help keep the ageing brain healthy, stimulate lymphocytes increasing immune responses to infections, may be associated with lower risks of autism, boost fertility, and decrease the frequency of colds and influenza up to 40%. One of the most studied aspects of sun exposure is its effect on mood, from seasonal effective disorder to other types of depression. The sun can help alleviate depression and anxiety.
Another important aspect to daily sun exposure is the regulation of our circadian rhythms, our daily wake and sleep cycles, which affect our health tremendously. If we live under artificial lights, especially LED lights, during the day and well after dark as well, the messages we are programmed to receive through our eyes and skin from full spectrum sunlight, are not there to influence appropriate melatonin production, storage and release. This messes with our sleep cycles, which in turn has other effects on our health, such as weight dysregulation. Exposure to morning sun can particularly help with weight loss.
Have you ever noticed how a few hours at the beach, some time in the garden, camping or just sitting in the sun in your break, can calm your nervous system and energise you, and even help you sleep better? Sometimes the most healing things are the simplest, and we reach for expensive supplements and fancy gym memberships, while forgetting the most effective healing is free, if we only make a little time for it. Fresh air, morning sunlight on bare skin, and clean water, are foundational to our good health. Many people who are unwell stay rugged up and inside under artificial lighting, when time outside in natural light and some appropriate sunshine, would be of great benefit.
How to safely exposure yourself to sunlight.
To re-train yourself to natural circadian rhythms, go out into the sun as soon as you get up in the morning- and sunrise is the best time- and face in the direction of the sun (without staring directly at the sun). Do not wear any contact lenses, glasses or sunglasses. This gives the brain the message that it is morning, the eyes produce some melatonin, ready for release after dark. 1-3 minutes is enough for this specifically. Combined with barefoot grounding, it is a wonderful start to the day. Outside exercising soon after sunrise is another excellent way to receive this benefit.
For UV and full spectrum exposure, here in Perth between 9 and 11am, and 3-5 pm, is a good time to expose our bodies (with as much bare skin as possible) gently to sunlight, except in winter when the middle of the day is best. Start with just a few minutes a day, to prevent burning and build a light tan, but over time spending an hour or two over the whole day (avoiding the middle of the day in summer) is great. A minimum of 15- 20 minutes is important. The morning sun is however particularly beneficial. Here in Perth we are lucky to have plenty of sunshine with UV through both summer and winter, and in winter we need to be more deliberate in making sure we get enough. Even doing this on weekends or holidays helps build Vitamin D stores. That is why we feel so good going on a holiday to a beach and just hanging out.
Incidental sunlight is also valuable- drive with the window down (glass blocks some frequencies of light), take your phone calls outside in the sun, take your breaks from the office in the sunlight, exercise outdoors instead of at the gym under artificial lighting. Of course be careful under the searing noon sun (between 11am and 2pm) in summer here in Perth- while a few minutes may be beneficial, it is important not to get sunburned or dehydrated.
What to do on cloudy days? When its cloudy there is less UV and spectrum light however there is still plenty and many cloudy days here in Perth have high UV.s You can still get sunburned on a cloudy day. So while not as effective, it is still worth getting outside.
Enjoy the sun in whatever way you can, in balance, as it is healing for us in so many ways. Traditional early Naturopaths used sunlight for healing, and now science is beginning to explain, to some extent, why it is so essential and effective, and perhaps also why we have so many chronic diseases arising in western countries where people are being taught to avoid sunshine as dangerous, instead of the most powerful healing force on the planet.
Reference for amount of sunlight needed for Vit D