Shining a Light on the Positive Effects of Sunlight

A prairie sun sets over the northeastern Colorado plains. Photo courtesy of CDOT

Colorado is known for its scenic views and its rumored 300+ days of sunshine. Lucky for us, all this makes it easy to get outside and enjoy the positive effects of sunlight. Discover why time outside can improve your health and quality of life and consider this your sign to get outdoors this weekend soak up the sun.

5 Positive Effects of Sunshine

Many health experts recommend stepping outside to clear your mind and enhance your mood. Here are five benefits of sunshine you won’t want to miss out on. 

Boosts Serotonin Levels 

    Healthy levels of sunlight trigger a release of serotonin — a hormone promoting calmness, contentment and happiness. This explains why you may feel more sadness and other negative emotions without sun exposure. The next time you feel glum, bask in the sun to increase your energy levels and outlook. 

    Reduces Anxiety

      Sunlight encourages relaxation and lowers anxiety levels. In addition to serotonin, it can stimulate endorphin production, relieving stress and pain. Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, limiting access to sunlight and fresh air and exacerbating sadness and fatigue.

      Ease Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

        Inadequate sun exposure can lead to SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a form of depression caused by seasonal changes. A study found that individuals living in areas with more sunlight exposure have better mental health. Meanwhile, people in locations with decreased sunlight exposure are less likely to participate in physical activities. If you need to supercharge your mood, take a walk outside and enjoy its mood-boosting benefits.

        Improves Cognitive Function

          Access to natural light can positively impact your focus and memory, brain performance and productivity at home or work. However, be careful not to spend too much time outdoors. Research shows that prolonged sun exposure can negatively impact your motor-cognitive performance. Always wear sunglasses and a cap with a visor to protect yourself.

          Enhances Sleeping 

            Many factors influence your circadian rhythm — the body’s internal clock — including metabolism, physical activity and sunlight exposure. Natural light is a significant stimulus that helps your body understand when to wake up and sleep. Just 30 minutes of sunlight exposure daily can help improve your sleep later in the evening. In fact, it is now suggested to get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure first thing in the morning to set your circadian rhythm for the day, ultimately improving your sleep.

            Strengthens Your Immune System

                    Taking vitamins and getting your annual flu shot aren’t the only ways to avoid getting sick. Sun exposure also stimulates vitamin D production, aiding immune function throughout the year. The less you’re under the weather, the less inflammation throughout your body. Given the connection between increased inflammation and intensified depression, maintaining your immune system is an excellent way to support your mental health.

                    3 Easy Ways to Get Natural Sunlight

                    Play Outside

                      Did you know that experts recommend that adults get over 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week? In this fast-paced lifestyle, individuals use their time for work and personal commitments, reserving fewer moments for socializing and exercise. Fortunately, there’s a way to enjoy both.

                      Denverites know a thing or two about playing outside. From volleyball at Wash Park to pickleball courts in City Park, we love being outside basking in our 300+ days of sunshine. Whatever sport or game you choose to get you outside, make it fun and know this is all for your health.

                      Start a Garden

                        Get the benefits of sunlight in the comfort of your backyard. Gardening is scientifically proven to provide physical and mental health benefits. At first glance, this activity might seem easy, but the heavy lifting, squatting and bending make it a great outdoor exercise. 

                        Gardening provides other benefits as well. You’ll develop self-confidence as your plants thrive and feel more at ease around the natural environment. Engaging in this hobby routinely improves a person’s overall well-being by easing stress. It’s a helpful way to get enough sunshine, boost your mental health and develop your confidence with small steps into a new experience.

                        Go For a Walk or a Hike

                          Getting outdoors doesn’t always have to mean going for a strenuous hike. A simple walk around your neighborhood or local park is just enough to enjoy the positive effects of sunlight. Walking in nature is beneficial for the brain in many ways. While sunlight provides mind-boosting benefits, strolling in nature allows you to learn more about the natural world as you admire the trees and animals. 

                          Fortunately, Denver has many walking trails, parks and nearby open spaces such as Sloan’s Lake Loop, High Line Canal Loop Trail and the Green Mountain Trail, that are perfect for a morning or afternoon stroll.

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