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Health & Medical

BEYOND TRIM: March forth to the great outdoors

Here comes the sun, and the health benefits that go with it

Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center
Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center

Today’s date and the warming trend in the weather remind me how important it is to get outside every day during the daylight hours. The energy from the sun not only warms us and provides light but plays a role in our overall health. The study of how our body’s natural mental, physical and emotional cycles are affected by the sun (and the moon) is called chronobiology.

Sleep – One of the chronobiological cycles you may have heard of is circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm regulates your sleep and wake cycle, for one thing. In humans there is a very strong natural rhythm that promotes wakefulness during daylight hours and sleeping at night. If you spend most of your time indoors and never see daylight you may find that you have trouble sleeping at night as electric lighting does not seem to be strong enough to stimulate and support this natural rhythm.

Mood and mental health – Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.), sometimes called seasonal depression, is a mood disorder that happens at the same time every year, generally in the winter. Experts believe S.A.D may be related to hormonal changes in the brain. Serotonin is one of the hormones that regulate mood, and sunlight tends to enhance its production. During the fall and winter, when there is less sunlight, the brain doesn’t make as much serotonin and this may cause some people to feel symptoms of depression or sadness.

Bone health – Vitamin D is very important for your bone health. While you can find vitamin D in some foods, such as mushrooms, the most natural source is the sun. Your body produces Vitamin D with sun exposure. It has even been found that bone density may fluctuate seasonally with bones being stronger in the Fall than they are in the Spring. I know some people avoid the sun – and it’s true that over exposure increases cancer risk – but it takes only 5 to 15 minutes to produce enough vitamin D, and that is safe for many.

Your weight – According to some researchers, morning light seems to help people keep the fat off. They say you need 20 to 30 minutes between 8 a.m. and noon, and the earlier you get it, the better it seems to work.

Good morning then. Go outside!

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