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Soak up winter sunlight wisely to be hale and hearty

Spending a little time basking in the sun is a blissful therapy.

Deepa Gupta | New Delhi |

The Sun is the closest star to Earth. Life on Earth would not have been possible in its absence as it provides warmth and energy.

Come winter, we all need to feel warmth and health benefits of sunshine. It does not soothe only our body but our mind, heart and soul too. Sorry, but sitting by a sunny window just would not do it because the UVB rays necessary for vitamin D production are absorbed by glass. To get yours, you will need to step outside.

These are a few health benefits you can extract directly soaking up the sun:

  • Elevates mood and fights depression:In winter, we usually feel little dull and less energetic as compared to warm months. Sun exposure during the winter months may help reduce these mood problems. Our mood is influenced by a complex web of relationships between sunlight, melatonin (the sleep hormone) and serotonin (the hormone associated with elevated mood). In winter, when sunlight is dull, your melatonin levels naturally increase. As you come out in open sunlight, melatonin levels decrease and serotonin levels increase. Generally, people keep themselves indoors during cold weather –a major reason why moods tend to be more depressive. Come out in bright sun helping naturally produced serotonin stay in blood stream longer, keeping your mood and energy levels higher.


  • Prevents and cure teeth and bone problems:Bones tend to become stiff and tricky during cold months. Sunlight stimulates the production of cholecalciferol, which the body eventually transforms into vitamin D. We need vitamin D to help our body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet also. These minerals are important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. When we are outdoors, our body creates vitamin from direct sunlight falling on our skin.


  • Skin friendly:The sun is less visible in winter. Winter brings many conditions that strip skin of its natural moisture. Cold winds irritate the delicate skin on our face and hands. Wise exposure to sun brings the promise of clear and easy-to-manage skin. The sun rays soften the skin and brings back the moisture lost in cold weather. Sunlight also stimulates vitamin D production, helping control some chronic skin diseases and causing a sense of well-being.


  • Lowers blood pressure:Blood pressure is generally higher in winter as compared to summer season. Low temperatures cause your blood vessels to narrow – which increases blood pressure because more pressure is required to push blood through narrowed veins and arteries. Sunlight is known to lower blood pressure. According to a team of British researchers nitric oxide stored in the top layers of the skin reacts to sunlight and causes blood vessels to widen. That, in turn, lowers blood pressure. Not getting enough sunlight might also cause risk for heart diseases. Protect your heart by soaking up moderate sunlight.


  • Better sleep:Though dark, cold and quiet nights and a warm blanket sounds like a perfect recipe for good night’s sleep but it can actually bring insomnia. When room temperature is too cold, it becomes difficult to fall asleep and the quality of sleep also suffers. Sitting under sun for fifteen to twenty minutes every day, preferably in morning, may help shut off the body’s melatonin production, the hormone that makes you drowsy when it gets dark outside. This will help your body clock recognise that it’s time to produce it again when the sun goes down. If your body is exposed to sun every morning, your body will increase production of serotonin that regulates and stabilises your sleeping patterns. Sunlight does not impact your sleep through serotonin only, the hormone cortisol also plays a significant role. We need cortisol up in the morning and then dropping down in the evening so we can sleep properly. Bright light in the morning also increases production of cortisol like it does with serotonin.


  • Weight-check:In winter, you tend to gain weight due to many factors like less intake of water, less burning of calories etc. Exposure to sunshine helps release nitric oxide, a protein which slows the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Sunbathing in winter comes with these and many other benefits, but excessive exposure to sunlight carries some risks too. So, it is necessary to determine the degree to which sunlight exposure brings positive results. Firstly, choose the right time of the day.

If your shadow is longer than your body height, you cannot reap sunshine health benefits. Other factors that determine skin safety under the sun are location and skin type. So, consider them too before going for a sun bath. Brief, regular exposures have been found to be much more effective and safer than the occasional long one.

If you have had cancer, check with your doctor first. Irresponsible sun bathing is unquestionably harmful and precautions need to be taken. Handle sunshine wisely for optimising health and preventing diseases. Start with a five minutes exposure of unblocked Sun for week one, step up to 10 minutes the next week and 15-20 minutes for week three.

To maximise your body’s natural vitamin D and serotonin production build up to 20-30 minutes of mid-morning Sun without sunblock. After your 30 minutes of max dose, it’s time to start sun blocking.