3 reasons to go outside and enjoy the sun this summer

Story by Silas Hendrich

We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it.  We’ve all found ourselves trapped indoors unable to heed the words of advice that friends, parents, advisors, bosses, and peers have given us over the years.  “Go outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air” has long been a common saying.  Why is this advice such a common thing in our society? (Keep in mind sun safety recommendations to help prevent skin cancer – read the CDC’s sun safety guidelines.)

3 reasons to enjoy the sun

  1. Serotonin Levels in the Brain Increase Dramatically in Response to Bright Sunlight. Serotonin—a natural mood stabilizer—has been extensively studied and has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and increase happiness. People with depression have been shown to express low levels of serotonin.  Additionally, studies have found that during winter, humans show far lower levels of serotonin than they do during the summer months.  As a result, human patterns of behavior between summer and winter months has been associated with the development of seasonal depression (Mead, 2008).
  2. Sunlight Helps to Regulate Melatonin Levels. Melatonin is another hormone produced in the body, and is responsible for regulating circadian rhythms in the body.  Melatonin is actually produced from serotonin during times in which the body is not exposed to light.  Similarly to serotonin, melatonin production cycles in humans based off of the season—higher levels of melatonin are found during winter months when there is less sunlight, and lower levels during the summer when there is more sunlight.  Health experts recommend that when you are trying to wake up in the morning it is best to let in as much natural light as possible, and when you sleep to remove all forms of light.  Doing so will increase alertness during the day and improve sleep habits (Mead, 2008).
  3. Vitamin D Production. One of the most common justifications for going out into the sun is for the sake of Vitamin D production.  Vitamin D plays a role in bone formation.  Additional studies have shown that high levels of vitamin D could help decrease the risk for developing MS (multiple sclerosis), prevention of diabetes, and helps prevent Hypertension (Mead, 2008).

Most experts agree that even just a few minutes in the sun can provide health benefits in all of these areas, but for everyday working professionals, it can be difficult to find time to go outside and enjoy the sun during the workday.  During the summer months allow yourself to take your lunch hour or breaks outside.  Additionally, many people wear sunglasses whenever they are outside, try not wearing them for 10-15 minutes during the day when you’re outside! Studies have shown that the direct sunlight can help with melatonin and serotonin levels during the day which can improve sleep patterns and overall mood. So instead of Netflix and Chill this summer, try to Sunshine and Recline.

Silas Hendrich is a first-year graduate student in the Marriage and Family Therapy program.  He graduated from Colorado State University in the spring of 2017 with a bachelor’s in biological sciences. Silas has been a part of our Campus Connections program for several years. Silas is originally from Colorado Springs, Colorado where he grew up playing soccer, hiking, living a sustainable lifestyle, and learning to unicycle and juggle.

For more health tips, visit the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest Board.