5 Powerful Benefits of Sunlight For Better Health

Including sleep health, immune support, mood, and energy!

By: Lexy Parsons

If you’re seemingly happier during the summer months or after a morning walk in the sunshine, it’s not just in your head! The benefits of sunlight are significant, and backed by science. Offering a multitude of health benefits for sleep, mood, immune health, and even skin, there are so many advantages to daily sunlight exposure. While it’s true that excessive sun exposure can lead to skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer, there are ways to absorb all the good-for-you benefits while practicing sun safety. All you need to know, ahead! 

The Top 5 Health Benefits of Sunlight

#1 Increased Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

Did you know that vitamin D is synthesized by the body in response to sun exposure? When our skin is exposed to sunlight, it triggers the production of vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, a vital vitamin for bone health, immune support, and mood. While there are certainly dietary sources of vitamin D, these plant and fortified food sources primarily consist of vitamin D2, a form that is less potent and not as readily absorbed. The vitamin D3 produced in our skin, however, is the preferred and most efficient form for maintaining optimal vitamin D levels. And considering vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increased risk of various chronic diseases — such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune disorders, and even certain types of cancer — a daily dose of sunshine is crucial for our health!

RELATED: 5 Delicious Vitamin D-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet

#2 Improved Mood and Mental Health

Back to what we said about feeling happier in the sunshine… it’s true! There’s even science to prove it, with consistent research showing a strong association between increased sunlight exposure and improved mood and mental health. In fact, a mere extra hour in the sunshine has been linked to a long-term reduction in depression and improved overall happiness. And the opposite holds true, too. Individuals with reduced exposure to sunlight appear to be at a greater risk for depression, both short-term and long-term. Short-term, this includes conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs as a result of reduced sunlight exposure during winter. Long-term, this includes sedentary individuals who spend too much time indoors on a regular basis. All the more reason to get outside, even if it’s just a few minutes a day!

RELATED: What Research Shows About Vitamin D Status & Mental Health

#3 Enhanced Skin Health

You may be thinking… doesn’t increased time in the sunshine harm the skin? While prolonged sunlight exposure can lead to skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer, mindful sun exposure can actually benefit skin health! So long as you’re avoiding prolonged exposure during the peak hours of sunlight — typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — and taking appropriate sun safety precautions, including wearing protective clothing or SPF if outside for extended periods of time — moderate sun exposure can promote enhanced skin health. According to research, this is thanks to the production of vitamin D, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate certain skin conditions. That said, to prevent skin damage, moderation and mindfulness are a must!

#4 Improved Sleep & Energy Through Circadian Rhythm Regulation

The body’s internal clock, known as our circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle, is greatly influenced by sunshine. Exposure to natural sunlight, particularly first thing in the morning, helps regulate the circadian rhythm by signaling to the brain that it’s time to wake up. This early morning exposure to light is what increases the production of serotonin and cortisol, our wakefulness hormones, while inhibiting the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone.  

When disturbed, whether through irregular sleep patterns (such as working a night shift) or blue light at night (through late-night use of electronics) our circadian rhythm can become dysregulated, leading to increased risk of sleep disorders, metabolic disorders, and mood disturbances. So, to ensure you feel awake and alert during the day and sleepy at night, aim to optimize morning sun exposure while limiting blue light at night!

RELATED: Surprising Ways Our Circadian Rhythm Affects Health + 8 Ways to Support It

#5 Enhanced Immune System Support

Another powerful benefit of regular sunlight exposure is its ability to enhance immune function. This is again through the synthesis of vitamin D, upon exposure to sunlight! According to research, increased vitamin D can modulate the immune system and protect against pathogens, while vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of infections and autoimmune diseases. 

RELATED: The 20 Best Immune-Boosting Snacks You Can Buy at the Store

Maximize the Benefits of Sunlight With These Healthy Habits

Wondering how to maximize your sun exposure in a healthy way? Here are some healthy habits to consider.

Take Your Workout Outdoors

If your environment allows, take advantage of the sunshine and bring your workouts outdoors! Whether it’s a morning walk with your pup, a FitOn bodyweight workout in the yard, or a yoga session at your local park, exercising in nature can boost your mood, energy, and vitamin D levels! Worried you won’t have the equipment necessary to get started? We’ve got you covered!

RELATED: The Surprising Mental Health Benefits of Bringing Your Workouts Outdoors

Meditate in the Morning Sun

Whether you meditate daily or are brand new to this mindful practice, consider taking your meditation outdoors. Ideally, first thing in the morning, before looking at any screens or electronics! Even if cloudy or overcast, exposure to morning sunshine has been shown to regulate your circadian rhythm (you’ll just need to spend a little longer outside, about 15-20 minutes as opposed to 5-10 minutes on sunny days).  

Coupled with the profound benefits of meditation — including reduced stress, improved energy and focus, and better sleep — this is a powerful practice to incorporate into your morning routine!

Try A Walking Meditation

If a seated meditation feels impossible or intimidating, consider an outdoor walking meditation! You’ll get both the benefits of mindfulness and sun exposure, not to mention, the powerful benefits of walking — a win-win-win! If possible, choose a scenic location or quiet route, such as a nature trail or a park, where you can escape the outside noise and tune in with your body and nature. Here’s a guide to help you get started.

Adopt a New Outdoor Activity

If you’re wondering how to maximize the health benefits of daily sunshine, use this as an opportunity to adopt a new hobby (or revisit something you lost along the way!). Whether it’s gardening, riding your bike, or playing pickleball in the park with friends, find an outdoor hobby that will light you up from the inside out!

Sunlight Safety Precautions to Consider

Practice Mindful Sun Exposure

While sunlight is beaming with health benefits, it’s important to be mindful and follow simple safety precautions to minimize the risk of skin damage. Here are some sun safety tips to consider:

  • Use Sunscreen: If spending prolonged time in the sun (more than 10-15 minutes) apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen. This is especially important during 10 am – 4 pm, when the sun is at its peak.
  • Avoid Peak Hours: To reduce the risk of sunburn and skin damage, avoid prolonged sun exposure when the sun is at its peak intensity. 
  • Seek Shade: Reduce direct sun exposure by spending time in the shade, especially during the prolonged time outside or during the hottest times of the day.
  • Stay Hydrated: Keep a water bottle with you and drink plenty of water or hydrating beverages, especially when exercising outdoors or spending extra time in the sun.

The Takeaway

Beaming with benefits, daily sunshine can be a powerful tool for improved health. From increasing vitamin D and supporting healthy skin to regulating mood, sleep, and immune function, there are so many reasons to spend time outside! However, in order to minimize risks and maximize health benefits, it’s important to be mindful and incorporate sun safety precautions. Use these tips to absorb all the good-for-you benefits!