Why does sunshine make me feel so good? And what positive effect does it have on my mental well-bein

There’s no denying it. Sunshine makes you feel fantastic. From the warm feeling of it on your skin to the positive effect it has on your mood. But what exactly is it about sunshine that gives you that ‘feel good’ factor?

We explore some of the key benefits daily exposure to direct sunlight has on your mood and well-being.

Sunlight increases serotonin levels:

Sunlight triggers the brain’s release of a hormone call serotonin – the body’s natural happy hormone. Making us feel happier and more energetic, serotonin can also help a person feel calm and focused and it’s particularly effective for those suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression triggered by the change in seasons. As we’re all exposed to more bright sunlight from May to September, our moods tend to be at their happiest when the summer suns out.

Mood enhancing:

It’s unclear how much time you need to spend in direct sunlight to reap the benefits. Factors such as skin colour, amount of skin exposed and time of day all play a part in how much serotonin our body releases. But the benefits are clear – keep your serotonin levels topped up and your motivation, well-being, mood and productivity should remain in a positive state.

With sun playing a major role in increasing serotonin levels and subsequently your mood, light therapy has become a popular treatment for depression. Also known as phototherapy, this form of treatment involves the use of light therapy boxes which mimic natural sunlight helping stimulate the brain to make serotonin.

Maintaining vitamin D levels:

Our bodies need vitamin D to maintain healthy bones, muscles and teeth and for around six months of the year, the main source of vitamin D is from sunlight exposure. Without enough sunlight exposure, our vitamin D levels may drop which could in term, lead to us feeling less happy. During the winter months, we need to top up our vitamin D levels with supplements or by eating more foods rich in vitamin D such as red meat, oily fish and eggs.

You can read more about the vital role vitamin D plays in the body in our article ‘What are the health benefits of vitamin D?

A natural energy boost:

Lower light levels at night or during winter periods trigger the brain to make another hormone called melatonin – a hormone responsible for making you sleep. When the sun’s out more, your body naturally makes less of this hormone which in turn makes you feel livelier and is the main reason you need less sleep in the summer months. Surely being woken by the sunshine rather than your alarm for a change gives you a boost and helps you feel more positive too!

Cancer prevention:

Although excess exposure to sunlight can contribute to skin cancers, studies have shown that a moderate amount of sunlight actually has some preventative benefits when it comes to cancers. According to researchers, individuals living in areas with more hours of daylight and therefore greater exposure to sunlight are less likely to have specific cancers such as colon, ovarian or pancreatic cancer in comparison to those living in areas with less hours of daily sunlight.

Just remember to practice sun safety if you do plan to be out in the direct sunlight for extended periods. Be sure to use adequate sun protection or cover up accordingly to avoid damage caused by repeated exposure to sunlight.

With so much in the news about how harmful the sun rays can be its great to remind ourselves occasionally what benefits the right balance of sun exposure can have on our body and mood. A little dose of sunshine every day has great advantages, for some more than others. So when the suns out, make sure you take time to enjoy breakfast in the garden, a walk on your lunch-break or a run in the evening and soak up some of the benefits served up by this majestic star in the sky!

Sources & further reading:

NHS Advice on Sunscreen and Sun SafetyHealthline – benefits of sunlight

Healthline – benefits of sunlight

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