Being Outside
Being Outside
Dear Tacit,

I know that being outside is “good” for me – but can you explain why, exactly?  With the days getting longer and spring arriving, I want to try to increase the benefits to my overall health.

Signed: Being Outside

Dear Being Outside,

I LOVE this question – as some readers might already know, I just returned home after spending a month working in Mexico.  I was able to enjoy the first-hand benefits of lots of natural light and can attest to how amazing it can make us feel.  (For those of you who don’t know – I am highly sensitive/allergic to direct sunlight – within 10 min, I am covered in blisters and on my way to the hospital – so I have to sit in the shade all the time!  LOL  Tanning is not an option for me!  But my arthritis and body aches lessen whenever I spend more time in natural light.  I sleep better.  I feel happier.  And my skin gets a nice healthy glow.)

Exposure to natural sunlight, either directly or indirectly (thru a window, from a shady area, etc) offers a myriad of physiological and psychological benefits:

  1. Vitamin D Synthesis: Natural sunlight exposure helps the body produce vitamin D, which is essential for bone health, immune function, and overall well-being. Adequate vitamin D levels are crucial for calcium absorption, which is necessary for maintaining strong bones.
  2. Improved Mood: Natural light exposure has been linked to the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation. Sunlight exposure can help alleviate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression, and anxiety, leading to improved overall mood and well-being.  Higher natural serotonin levels also decrease excess cortisol (stress hormone) production in our body, which can lessen a LOT of physical, emotional and mental symptoms (brain fog, skin issues, inflammation, headaches, nausea, sore muscles, mood swings and that “meh” feeling we sometimes get stuck in).
  3. Regulated Circadian Rhythms: Exposure to natural light helps regulate the body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. This helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, promoting better sleep quality and overall health.
  4. Enhanced Cognitive Function: Research suggests that exposure to natural light can improve cognitive function, concentration, and productivity. Natural light in work and educational environments has been shown to positively impact learning, attention, and performance.
  5. Eye Health: Natural light exposure supports healthy vision by helping to regulate the production of dopamine and melatonin in the retina. Adequate exposure to natural light can help reduce the risk of myopia (nearsightedness) and may protect against conditions such as macular degeneration.
  6. Boosted Immune Function: Sunlight exposure stimulates the production of white blood cells, which play a crucial role in the body’s immune response. Adequate sunlight exposure can enhance immune function and help protect against infections and illnesses.
  7. Better Skin Health: Moderate exposure to natural sunlight can benefit skin health by helping to regulate oil production, reducing inflammation, and promoting the synthesis of vitamin D, which is important for skin cell growth and repair. However, it’s essential to balance sunlight exposure to avoid sunburn and skin damage.
  8. Increased Productivity: Exposure to natural light in the workplace has been associated with increased productivity and satisfaction among employees. Access to natural light and outdoor views has been shown to reduce stress, fatigue, and absenteeism while improving job satisfaction and performance.
  9. Environmental Benefits: Utilizing natural light in building design can reduce energy consumption for lighting and heating, leading to lower utility costs and reduced environmental impact. Daylighting techniques that maximize natural light penetration can contribute to sustainable building practices and create more comfortable indoor environments.

Overall, exposure to natural light offers numerous health, cognitive, and environmental benefits, highlighting the importance of incorporating daylight into daily routines and building design. Of course, it is essential to avoid overexposure and potential health risks such as sunburn and skin cancer.  So, how can you safely get more natural sunlight in your day?  Try these ideas:

  1. Bounce natural light around a room with the use of mirrors – the reflection of the light can brighten up the space and lessen the need for fluorescent bulbs.
  2. Decorate with objects that have a metallic sheen on them, which also reflects the sun’s rays.  Or try using white or other light colours (like pastels) that reflect light, more than absorb it. And don’t forget to use your rugs wisely – keep the colours lighter, so the room doesn’t feel as dark.
  3. Open those curtains and blinds when you are in a room.  It’s nice to keep them drawn, for privacy or to keep the heat of the day at bay.  But the light needs to be able to come through.
  4. Get outside whenever you can – go for short walks (just 5-10 min, a few times a day, makes a huge difference); relax on a porch (even in the shade); or play in the garden.
  5. Hang out by a window (an open one, if weather permits) and allow yourself some downtime, just watching the outdoors on a regular basis.  It’s even better if you are able to spend your workday beside a window.
  6. Consider Vitamin D supplements or try using a light therapy lamp (the best time for light absorption is within an hour or so after you first wake up).  Adding to the natural light that you might already get does not hurt!

Take care!

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