Soak up Some Sun – Your Brain Will Love That!
“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,” so spoke John Denver in his joyous ode to the golden rays of life, and we can all agree to that. But sunshine does more than making us happy – it makes us smart as well.
While too much sun can expose you to harmful UV rays and cause a multitude of health problems, a moderate dose of the sunnies is essential for your wellbeing, and particularly your brain. Lack of adequate sunshine can trigger depression, hinder essential brain chemicals from flowing, and even hasten old age-related cognitive decline.
Summer months are rolling by, and now is a good time as any to soak up some sun for an additional brain boost!
What sunshine does to the brain
Promotes brain cell generation and growth
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor or BDNF is a type of protein essential for both neurogenesis (creation of new brain cells) and neuroplasticity (connection-forming between cells). The more BDNF your brain produces, the better and more agile your brain will keep in the long term. Several studies have shown that regular exposure to sunshine helps increase BDNF production in your brain, and the lack of it correlates with a lull in its function.
Helps mood and focus
We know that sunshine makes us “happy”, but do we know why? That’s because sunlight affects one of the key mood-regulators in our brain – the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin has been linked with mood upliftment and producing a sense of calmness and focus. A lack of serotonin in the brain can lead to extreme mood swings and some forms of Depression (especially Seasonal Affective Disorders) Now, exposure to sunlight triggers the production of serotonin in the brain, and the lack of sun slows it down. So getting an adequate amount of sunlight is also necessary for your mental health.
Prevents cognitive decline in old age
Vitamin D deficiency is one of the causes of cognitive decline and dementia in older adults, and the sun is our biggest natural source of Vitamin D. Studies have shown that moderate and regular exposure to sunlight in your middle age can significantly improve executive functioning in the long term, and even helps prevent some forms of cognitive decline. Going out in the sun is actually one of the easiest ways to ensure your brain stays sharp and working in advanced age.
How to make the most of the sun?
Outdoor activities are a great way to soak up some sun, but many of us don’t have the time. So here are some ways to incorporate sun exposure in your routine.
• Do your daily workout in an open area or a park.
• Instead of ordering online, visit the farmers’ market or local stores for your grocery needs.
• Avoid taking transport or your car over short and middling distances; start a bit early and walk to your destination instead.
• Take a walk outside the office during lunch hours; just a few blocks will do. If you have parks nearby, eat your lunch in nature.
• If you work from home, build your workstation/study in a room with big windows or openings to East and South for maximum natural sunlight.
• If you are thinking vacations, hit a beach or sweat it out on an open hike.
Sunlight is what makes life possible on Earth, so its no wonder our brain will benefit from it. But with all this comes a word of caution: UV rays from the sun can be extremely harmful to your skin, even causing cancer. Preventive measures (don’t forget your sunscreen!) and moderation should do the trick. Enjoy the sun (responsibly)!