Sun, the primary source of energy on Earth, is vital to our well-being. However, recent conversations around the rays of sun focus on the harmful effects of ultraviolent or UV radiation, eclipsing the ways in which it benefits our health.
In a 2008 research paper writer M Nathaniel Mead says discussions opposing exposure to UV rays may be countering research that highlights their healthful benefits.
The paper also looks at how sufficient exposure to sun is crucial for the production of Vitamin D, which is necessary for bone formation.
The science behind the practice
Sun exposure, also known as sun bath therapy, can help in managing different health conditions.
Dr Ashwathika Ashok, Naturopathy physician based in Coimbatore, says sun bath helps the body to absorb Vitamin D3. “Sun is one of the main sources of this vitamin. A sun bath can help us to get the most of this vitamin, which plays a major role in lot of our body’s functions,” she says.
Sunlight is also vital for regulating the production of melatonin in the body. Melatonin is required to maintain our sleep-wake cycle. Naturopathy practitioners say sun bath therapy helps to maintain hormonal balance and prevent disorders.
Effect on mental health
Dr Mansi Singh of Pune, who specialises in alternative healing and therapy, , adds, “Reduced exposure to sunlight has been linked to the development of physical and psychological disorders. Sun exposure does not result in skin burn. All you have to do is expose yourself to it in a healthy way.”
Without enough sun exposure, one’s serotonin levels can dip. Low levels of serotonin are associated with an increased risk of depression along with seasonal affective disorder or SAD. This is a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons.
Among physical diseases, Dr Singh mentions rickets, osteomalacia or softening of the bones due to lack of Vitamin D, and delayed healing of wounds.
Moreover, sun bath helps our body to sweat – which is one of the four means of bodily excretion. “Sweat is a way in which our skin, the largest organ of our body, eliminates toxic substances. Today, we try to arrest sweating in a lot of ways. But it is important to spend some time out in the sun and sweat it out,” explains Dr Ashok.
How it helps different health conditions
Dr Mansi Singh has a list of the different ways our body can benefit from optimum exposure to sunlight.
- Stabilises mental health: Sunlight prompts specific areas in the retina, which subsequently initiate the release of serotonin, a chemical messenger that acts as a mood stabiliser. Serotonin is known to manage depression and anxiety.
- Boosts immune system: The amount of a type of white blood cells, called lymphocytes, increases in our body with sun exposure. These cells play a vital role in defending the body against infections and illnesses.
- Heals skin conditions: UV radiation in the form of light therapy can effectively manage several skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
- Improves brain functioning: Not only does Vitamin D promote physical health, but it also helps with the functioning of the brain. Sunlight has been found to induce cell growth in the hippocampus – the part of brain which forms, organises and stores memories.
- Relieves body aches: Receptors in our muscles can become hypersensitive when deprived of Vitamin D, and cause soreness. The anti-inflammatory effect of Vitamin D relieves this soreness along with other forms of aches and pains.
- Can reduce the risk of cancer: While excess sunlight can cause skin cancer, moderate exposure can actually be protective against the disease. According to a study, people who live in places with few hours of daylight may risk developing cancers like Hodgkins lymphoma and cancers of colon and ovaries.
- Increases oxygen content in blood: Sunlight also stimulates the body to produce more red blood cells, which increases the amount of oxygen in the blood. It also helps to convert a type of cholesterol in the skin into Vitamin D.
How to take a sun bath
The first and most important point to keep in mind is to not sunbathe in very strong sunlight. As soon as you start sweating, move into a shaded place away from direct sunlight.
Dr Singh suggests methods and tips to keep in mind while sun bathing:
- Cover your head with a wet towel
- Wear light cotton clothes to let the skin absorb sunlight
- Lie down or sit in sun and relax for a while
- In summer, you can sunbathe for 10-15 minutes and in winter, stretch it to 20-30 minutes
- It is best to sunbathe before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m., when the rays are not very harsh
- Avoid sunbathing in a windy area
- Once you start sweating, move into shade and later bathe in cold water
- Drink plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated during a sun bath
- Some people are allergic to sunlight. Such people or those with a heart ailment should avoid a sun bath.