How to get the proven benefits of sunlight—safely.

Copyright: Aliaksei Kaponia

Copyright: Aliaksei Kaponia

At this point, the recommendations on sun exposure tend to sound like advice for new vampires: Avoid it all costs or perish.

But there’s starting to be some pushback on that conventional wisdom. In a recent study, researchers noted that underexposure to sun carried significant risks, similar to smoking, obesity, and being sedentary. Other studies are noting sunshine’s happy effect on mental health, better aging, and cardiovascular benefits.

These advantages come, in part, from the way that sunshine prompts production of vitamin D, a powerhouse when it comes to health rewards. But why not just pop a supplement to emulate that sunny feeling? Because it doesn’t work as well, according to Michael Holick, M.D., director of the Heliotherapy, Light, and Skin Research Center at Boston University Medical Center.

“Humans have a lot of beneficial biological processes that occur as a direct result of sun exposure,” he tells SELF. “You might see a few of those with vitamin D supplementation, but not to the degree that you do with simply being out in the sun.”

Also, increased vitamin D isn’t the only thing that sunshine triggers. How else can catching some rays improve your life? Let us count the ways:

1. Better mood

Sunlight trips the release of serotonin and endorphins, hormones associated with happier mood, less depression, and overall calm. “You’ll notice immediately that you simply feel better,” says Holick. “That’s your whole system responding to sun.

2. Deeper sleep

Hello, better circadian rhythm. Getting sun exposure during the day—with all that yummy serotonin—also puts you on track for more effective production of melatonin, the hormone thathelps sleep. Your body is more efficient at recognizing when it’s evening after receiving some sunshine-fueled input during the day. One way to amp up this effect is by waiting at least a few minutes before putting on sunglasses. It’s when sunlight hits the retina that production of serotonin begins.


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