Sun, glorious sun! After nearly a month of rain, gray and gloom in our area, the sun came out to say hello for a couple days this week.

I was a bit surprised by the truly tangible effect that the sunshine had on our family. We were more cheerful, more inspired and motivated, even more pleasant.

My husband mowed and trimmed the yard (definitely not his favorite activity). I tackled some gardening projects I had been avoiding. The kids began begging to be outside non-stop (and ceased to ask for a movie). The baby stopped fussing and easily entertained herself.

What is it about sunshine that it has this effect on us? Why does it bring out the best in us?

Here are a few of the benefits of getting out into the sun:

1. It will make you feel better.

Sunshine has the ability to affect our moods. Lack of sunlight can contribute to depression, and in particular, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

It is thought that SAD is caused by interruptions to the body’s circadian system (which regulates sleep), and also to levels of serotonin and melatonin. Exposure to sunlight increases serotonin and melatonin, as well as regulates the circadian system.

Even if you don’t experience seasonal depression, spending time out in the sun still offers the same benefits and will help to regulate your sleep patterns and improve your overall quality of sleep. Even exposing your eyes to the light (take off those sunglasses!) will also improve melatonin levels and sleep quality.

Unscientific as it may be, sunshine just makes me feel better in general. It helps to keep my moods more level, it makes me feel more cheerful, it puts a bit of spring in my step, it even helps me to feel more alert and focused.

I wish I could explain it, but regardless I can’t deny that sunshine has a very positive impact on my well-being!

Photo by Cameron Cassan

2. It will make you healthier.

You’ve probably heard that our bodies create Vitamin D from sunshine exposure. What you may not know is that most people in our society are low or deficient in Vitamin D, partly because of poor diet, but mostly because we avoid sunlight and spend much of our time indoors.

Lack of Vitamin D is linked to depression, to higher cancer rates, to lowered immunity in general, and to many other disorders and illnesses such as rickets, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, allergies, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Opinions vary, but the general consensus seems to be that between 5-15 minutes of exposure to sunlight daily (without sunscreen) is enough to ensure that your Vitamin D levels remain optimal.

You can also obtain more Vitamin D from your diet (and a daily Cod Liver Oil supplement is a fantastic way to do this), but sunshine is free for the taking and enjoyable to boot.

But what about the risks associated with sun exposure?

There is a lot of information out there and it’s hard to know what to believe. The studies on skin cancer and sun exposure and Vitamin D are often contradictory.

Here is my personal take on it:

  • We need the Vitamin D, and thus we need some sunshine. Period.
  • But getting sunburned is a bad idea.
  • Since sunscreen negates the Vitamin D effects of sun, so we should spend at least some time outside with bare skin.
  • If we’ll be playing in the sun for longer periods of time or going out during mid-day when the sun is at its strongest, we should consider some natural sun protection .
  • If we’re going to use sun protection, we need to do our research and select our products very carefully (more on this coming soon at Simple Organic!).
Photo by Sharon D. Pruitt

3. It will encourage you to get active.

There’s nothing like the call of a sun-shiney day to make you want to go for a walk. Or run around with your kids in the backyard. Or take a trip to the beach or simply splash around in a kiddie pool.

Sun brings out a desire in us to get more active, to play, to move our bodies. I am a person who has a bad tendency to coop myself up inside (I think it comes from living in a very gray and rainy location for most of my life).

However, when I force myself to go outside on the precious sunny days that come our way, I inevitably find myself wanting to stay out longer and find something active to do– gardening or yard projects, head off to a park, pack up a picnic.

Summer is an amazing time to enjoy the outdoors, explore nature, get some exercise and have fun while we’re doing it. Try making a commitment to spend at least a brief period of time outdoors each day, soaking up some sun!

Do you make a habit of getting out in the sun? Do you, like me, find that it makes a difference in the way that you feel and function?