Can a mere 10 minutes of sunshine per day really benefit your health? I wondered the same thing — so, I tried it!
First, let me start by saying I am sunshine-obsessed. I spent some of my fondest undergrad years at the University of Miami spoiled by the golden Florida rays. Nearly 10 years later (where did the time go), I’m living beachside in sunny San Diego — after experiencing sunshine year-round, my hometown in Boston never stood a chance. What can I say? Sunshine makes me happy! Which brings me back to my point — can a daily dose of sunshine (more specifically, a mere 10 minutes) reduce stress, boost your mood, and benefit your health? Can sunshine really improve your well-being?
As you can imagine, I was more than happy to test this theory out for myself. So, for seven consecutive days, I spent ten mindful minutes soaking up the sunshine and documenting any changes to my mental and physical health. Read on to find out how my week-long experiment went and whether sunshine for mental health is a myth or a must!
The Science on Sunshine & Mental Health
Before we get to all things sunny and warm, let’s chat about the science on sunshine and mental health.
When it comes to mental health, the literature on sunshine is promising. According to research, increased exposure to sunlight improves your health and happiness by regulating the release or inhibition of certain hormones. From boosting serotonin (your happy hormone) to increasing vitamin D levels, daily sunshine (in small doses) has been shown to boost mental health. Think about it — you feel happier in the summer, right? This explains why! No, it’s not in your head — it’s because longer days and increased exposure to sunshine stimulate those feel-good hormones.
And the opposite holds true for the winter — we’re more apt to feel depressed or unmotivated due to insufficient sunshine. In fact, there’s a disorder — seasonal affective disorder, or SAD — directly linked to negative changes in mood and mental health due to a lack of sun. The decreased sun exposure during the winter months is associated with cognitive declines and impairments, as well as an increased risk for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
But this isn’t just a seasonal phenomenon — if you’re spending the majority of your days indoors (even in the summer), ahem, just about everyone in our modern-day society, the lack of sun can have the same detrimental effect on your mood and mental health. So, take note — and schedule that 10-minute sunshine break!
Sun exposure (or lack thereof) affects your hormones in multiple ways: in addition to boosting serotonin levels, sunlight exposure also regulates your sleep-wake cycle (known as your circadian rhythm). When our body is exposed to morning sunlight, it signals the release of cortisol, a hormone that makes us feel more alert and awake. When the sun goes down, melatonin (our sleep hormone) is released in response to the darkness. If this cycle gets disrupted due to inadequate sunlight exposure, we can experience everything from mood disturbances and fatigue to weight gain and illness. The takeaway? Daily light exposure is critical to hormone regulation, which in turn plays a role in our overall health!
Can 10 Minutes of Sunshine Per Day Really Help Lower Our Stress?
10 minutes? That’s all you need? Yep! According to the World Health Organization, a mere 5-15 minutes of sunshine can give you all the stress-busting, mood-boosting benefits! But, if you want to optimize your uptake of vitamin D, you’ll also want to factor in the season, the time of day, and how much clothing you’re wearing (aka the amount of UVB exposed to your skin). More on this below.
I Tried Getting Outside For 10 Minutes Each Day For 7 Days: Here’s What Happened
Instead of hitting my usual 6:45 am workout, I decided to kick off my week of sunshine with a Monday morning stroll. And now that days are getting lighter, I was able to soak in the warm rays by 7 am (clearly, I’m a morning person). Before heading out the door, I took a mental note of how I was feeling. I was a little tired, and I guess you could say I was feeling a little anxious. But it was Monday, after all, and I had a long to-do list ahead of me. I reminded myself that morning movement always makes me feel better — typically, this is indoors on the megaformer, so I was eager to find out if sunshine could enhance the stress-busting benefits of exercise even more!
I laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement. As a note, I made an extra effort to make my morning walk mindful. If I’m being honest, this isn’t always easy — I’m a multi-tasker, and I enjoy staying busy. On a regular day, I would typically check in with my family, take a walking meeting, or listen to a YouTube video about Chinese Medicine in an attempt to decode the complexities of my grad program. But, I decided to stay present — no music, no phone calls, no distractions! I listened to the birds, looked up at the beautiful beams of sunlight, and found myself feeling so much gratitude for my life and my surroundings. What a beautiful way to start the week — If you ask me, Day 1 was a success. I felt clear, grounded, and grateful.
Balancing a job and grad school while attempting to have a personal life is no easy feat. With 3 midterms on the horizon, a slew of work deadlines, and one too many social obligations, I woke up feeling a bit overwhelmed. I didn’t have time for a walk, but I did have time for a 10-minute reset. Before reaching for my phone or laptop, I decided to head outside and sip my coffee under the morning sun. And since I was a little stressed, this was the perfect opportunity to put the theory of sunshine for mental health to the test.
Again, I made an extra effort to be mindful. I took a deep breath and felt an immediate wave of calm take over my body. Maybe it was the deep breathing, or maybe it was the sunshine — either way, there’s no denying I felt (immediately) better. After my ten minutes was up, I made my way back inside and reevaluated my emotions. My stress had dissipated, my mind felt clear, and I was ready to get to work. Sunshine for the win!
While I consider myself an active person, the majority of my days are spent on the computer indoors — I’m either working or in class. The takeaway? I spend way too much time seated (and indoors). So, in an attempt to boost my activity level while also soaking in the sunshine, I decided to listen to my lecture class on the go — one of the perks of being online. I usually take extensive notes during my class, but I decided to just listen and soak it all in. I was honestly amazed at how much information I retained! Who knew a simple environment shift could be so beneficial for my mental health? I’d like to think the combination of walking and sunshine was a big factor in alleviating my stress. Plus, the research seems to agree!
After yesterday’s successful day in the sun, I was motivated to switch up my environment and get outside. For starters, the weather has been beautiful. And because I live in California, there’s no shortage of outdoor coffee shops (I know, I’m grateful).
Aside from interning in the Clinic and my in-person lab classes, all of my grad program lecture classes are online. And I work remotely. This means I have the ability to be mobile — why don’t I take more advantage of this? I packed up my books and spent the afternoon studying outside. It was another small change with a big benefit. The sunshine, coupled with a fresh breeze, was just what I needed.
Was the daily sunshine benefiting my sleep? It appeared so! After a mere four days in the sun, I noticed improvements in both sleep latency and duration. I’ve been able to fall asleep earlier and have been waking up feeling better rested. This is a huge improvement considering I’ve been struggling to secure a restful night’s sleep for a while.
Feeling motivated to move, I decided to channel this morning energy for a sunshine-soaked walk. I took my dog for a mile-long stroll then got started with my day. Aside from feeling less stressed, I’ve also noticed improvements in both my energy and productivity on the mornings I get outside. A coincidence? I think not!
Saturday was finally here, and the sun was out to play! After a long week, I decided to release my built-up energy (and stress) from the week with an outdoor workout. My friend joined me because… a little friendly competition is a major motivator! We streamed a 15-minute HIIT Express workout with Danielle Pascente in the backyard, and let me tell you. We were sweaty, and we were stress-free.
I decided to end my week with a morning hike! I asked my friend to join in, and we spent a beautiful morning outdoors. We wanted to catch the sunrise, so we headed for the trail very early (I’m talking 5 A.M.). Interestingly enough, our mood and energy peaked around 7 am… As soon as the sun came out! We felt less groggy and more energized — imagine that! Mind you — we hadn’t even had coffee. I was curious what science had to say about this! According to an Australian research study, people had higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days than on cloudy ones, regardless of temperature change. No wonder we were feeling so good.
Tips On Getting Your Daily Dose of Sunshine
Don’t Forget About Sunscreen
Before you head out for your daily dose of sunshine, there are some important sun safety tips to keep in mind. If you plan to spend more than 10-15 minutes outside, be sure to bring sunscreen to help protect your skin and prevent sunburn — yes, even in the winter!
Timing Is Important Too
Be mindful of when the sun is at its strongest and the time of year. During the winter months, you’ll get the most vitamin D mid-day when the sun is at its strongest. But during the summer, it’s best to soak in the sunshine outside the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. if you plan on spending more than 10 minutes outdoors. For extra protection, keep a hat and a cute pair of sunnies nearby!
You Only Need 10 Minutes (For Your Mental Health)
And remember, if you’re going for the stress-busting benefits, it doesn’t take much! All you need is 10 minutes of sunshine per day to get the maximum benefits. Simple, right?
A Sunny (Stress-Busting) Success
I can confidently say that 10 minutes of daily sunlight did wonders for my health — both mentally, and physically! My sleep improved, I felt more energized, and I found myself making healthier decisions throughout the day (like going for more walks and spending extra time in nature). The best part? You only need 10 minutes. And even on the busiest of days, we can all find time for that — don’t you think? Give it a try and see how it works for you. All in all, I give this experiment an A+ — it’s an effective, efficient, and free way to manage stress, boost your mood, and benefit your health. Sunshine… you’re good for the soul!