The sun is the primary source of heat, light, and energy on our planet. It helps things grow and contributes to many natural cycles of the earth. Because of this, it’s also necessary for human life. The sun can be a source of energy, excitement, and health benefits for many people. However, prolonged exposure to it can also be dangerous. Here are some effects of the sun to be aware of as you spend time in the great outdoors.
Advantages of Sun Exposure
Spending time in the sun has many health benefits. The various types of radiation that come from it, including UV-A and UV-B, can cause your body to produce various hormones that help regulate bodily functions.
Our sleep is naturally affected by the day and night cycle of the earth. Exposure to the sun can help you get better and more natural sleep because it affects the hormones that regulate your Circadian rhythm, your body’s sleep clock. These hormones, serotonin and melatonin, can affect more than just your sleep, but if they become unbalanced, your ability to go to sleep and stay asleep may suffer. Studies have shown that people who get regular exposure to the sun will balance out these hormones and get better sleep as a result.
Improving Mental Health
Spending time in the sun also has been proven to have significant benefits for mental health. The presence of the sun can literally brighten many people’s days, because it stimulates the production of Vitamin D in the body, which can help boost mood. It can increase dopamine levels, which lead to increased general happiness. This is one reason why many people struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depressive mental health condition, during the wintertime when the sun isn’t as present or powerful during the day.
The sun’s stimulation of Vitamin D production in the body doesn’t just affect mental health. It can also improve skin and bone health, since Vitamin D strengthens your cells. So while overexposure to the sun is unhealthy, a moderate amount of exposure can do wonders for your skin health.
Boosting Immune System
All of these benefits of the sun can also combine to improve the function of the immune system and your body’s overall internal wellness. Moderate exposure to the sun’s radiation has been shown to keep illness at bay, including serious conditions like cancer.
Disadvantages to Sun Exposure
While there are plenty of benefits of sun exposure, overexposure can lead to negative health consequences.
The most obvious form of injury from the sun is sunburn, which occurs when your skin overheats in the sun and becomes damaged. The radiation of the sun can break down your cells over time, and can even mutate them.
With everything in life, there is a balance, and this is definitely true of sun exposure. While a little bit of sun (5-15 minutes at a time) can be beneficial to your skin, routinely spending hours in the sun’s heat and light without adequate radiation-blocking protection can burn your skin as well as cause mutations that lead to cancer. Skin cancer can be just as risky as any other kind of cancer, especially if it’s found late or left untreated. Like many other forms of cancer, it can also lead to death if it’s serious enough. Whenever you spend time outside, you should apply sunblock with an SPF of at least 30. You’ll still reap the benefits of spending time outdoors, but you’ll reduce your risk of skin cancer and sunburn.
The heat of the sun can be overwhelming during spring and summer months. People who spend extended periods of time outdoors during the warm or hot months know this all too well. The sun can easily dehydrate you with its heat, and when that happens, your body will begin to suffer as a result of being unable to cool down. Heat exhaustion is the first stage of this condition, and it’s easy not to notice. Some of the symptoms include fatigue and your body becoming unable to sweat.
If you don’t take shelter from the sun or take time to rehydrate, heat stroke is the next stage. Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia, which is a condition in which your body begins to shut down as a result of being unable to control its core temperature. Some symptoms include hot, dry skin, high body temperature, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. To avoid this, be aware of the amount of heat your body can handle, and regularly take breaks in the shade to drink water.
If you spend too much time in the sun without adequate eye protection, your vision could suffer over time. Just like your skin, the sun can burn your eyes and damage the sensitive cells within it. Overexposure to the sun can be a contributing factor to the development of cataracts, along with early onset blindness conditions like macular degeneration.
Ways to Protect Yourself In the Sun
Being aware of your body’s reaction to the sun is key to spending healthy time outdoors. Lighter skin is far more likely to be burned than darker skin, and by extension, lighter-skinned people are more susceptible to the sun’s damaging effects than darker-skinned people. However, everyone, regardless of skin tone, should do their best to protect themselves from sun damage. Techniques for doing this include:
- Taking regular breaks in shade
- Wearing long clothing during work that will protect your skin
- Applying and consistently reapplying sunscreen with 30-SPF protection or higher
- Drinking plenty of water
- Wearing polarized sunglasses, and never looking directly at the sun
- Listening and responding to your body’s need for rest and cool-down time
We’re Here to Help
Since every body reacts differently to the effects of the sun, it’s best to consult with your physician and/or a dermatologist about how much the sun will benefit your health. At Community Access Network, we’re here to offer that kind of support. We love our time in the sun just as much as you do, but we also value your wellness and want you to stay healthy while catching rays. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!