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Why you shouldn't let "back to school" mean back inside

The right amount of exposure to the sun provides vitamin D, supports bone health, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens mental health.

In the past 24 hours, you’ve probably been to work or maybe class, eaten a couple meals, and slept a bit. As busy as we are, our brains are busier - and the things we do throughout the day affect it - a lot.

With classes kicking back into full gear, you might find yourself spending more and more time inside. While air conditioning can provide a refreshing break from the sun's rays, sunlight is essential for well-being. The right amount of exposure to the sun provides vitamin D, supports bone health, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens mental health. Reducing exposure to sunlight reduces these health benefits.

Here are three ways that the sun keeps you healthy - physically and emotionally - followed by five ways to safely increase the amount of time you spend receiving these free benefits.

family walking in a field on a sunny day
Photo by Elisabeth Wales

3 Ways Sunlight Benefits Your Mental Health

1. Serotonin

Serotonin is a hormone that is released in your brain after being triggered by safe exposure to sunlight. This hormone helps you feel focused, calm, and happier. An improved mood is one of the most well-known benefits of serotonin but it also plays a role in promoting positive feelings and regulating your emotions, appetite, and digestion.

2. Physical Health

You’ve got to admit - fresh green grass on a bright sunny day can be enticing; allow yourself to accept the invitation and enjoy the outdoors. In addition to serotonin, the sun contributes to the vitamin D in your system. Low levels of vitamin D are known to increase levels of depression.

Another hormone that benefits both physical and mental health is endorphins. These are released by the body to relieve stress and pain. Endorphins are often recognized as feelings of delight after eating or exercise. Regular exercise can improve sleep, reduce stress, and boost self-esteem, all of which help in turn to reduce anxiety and depression.

3. Relationships

More often than not, when you head outside you aren’t heading there alone. Another benefit of serotonin from the sun is that it boosts your mood and makes you more willing to socialize. Spending quality time with people you love can reassure an anxious mind that they are appreciated and wanted.

Father planting trees with young son watching
Photo by Precious Melbourne

5 Simple Ways to Spend More Time in The Sun 
[Don’t forget your sunscreen!]

1. Go for a Walk

The end of summer means cooler weather and the start of changing seasons. Walks outside get your heart pumping and are an opportune time to reflect on life and review your day. If you'd rather not walk in silence, bring a buddy or use this time to call that family member or friend who loves to talk.

2. Play a Sport

If walking and talking don’t excite you, dust off that ball you set down oh so long ago and let yourself get back into old hobbies. All the benefits of playing team sports for young children don’t stop being true as you get older. Increased communication, refined problem-solving ability, boosted self-esteem, and reduced stress are only a few of the benefits of playing a sport. Add these to the time you spend in the sun soaking in serotonin and vitamin D, and the question changes from why sports to what sport!

3. Garden

A study conducted earlier this year revealed that, for a majority of respondents, plant-keeping had a positive impact on physical and mental health. Touching foliage is known to produce a calming effect. This calming effect - combined with the serotonin gained from time in the sun - results in a triple win for you, your mental health, and your yard.

4. Picnic

When you’re setting a goal, or wanting to start a new habit, it's much easier to do so if you build on to something you are already doing. You’re already eating, hopefully, at least three meals a day; resolving to have a meal outside every now and then is a simple upgrade that allows you to reap all the rewards from sunshine.

5. Talk on your Porch

Or your lawn. Or your driveway. We can’t promise you that that conversation will be more engaging if it happens outside, but we do know that you will be getting free health benefits that you wouldn’t be otherwise.

Stepping outside won’t result in an immediate increase in joy and energy, so just remember that taking care of your mental health takes continuous effort. Be deliberate about your decisions and encourage those around you to do the same.

For more ideas on how to regulate your mental health check out this article: Six Areas to Improve for Optimal Mental Health.