In the spring and summer, people are happier and spend more time outside, not only for the warm weather, but I believe, for the light. For me, there is nothing more energizing and uplifting than sunlight.
When bright light enters our eyes, serotonin production is increased, and this makes us feel happy and alert. Serotonin affects the majority of our 40 million brain cells and influences many functions like our mood, appetite, memory, temperature regulation, sex drive, and our sleep rhythms.
Sunlight has mental and physical health properties that are imperative to human life and body function, and boosts the body's vitamin D supply. According to an article inMedical Daily (MD) over 1000 genes (about 10 per cent of genes in the human body) that control every tissue in the body are regulated by vitamin D3, produced by the skin's response to sunlight.
Vitamin D helps promote bone growth, and is said to prevent illnesses and conditions like inflammation, multiple sclerosis, colorectal and breast cancer. Indeed, the MD site states that according to researchers, "raising the [vitamin D] serum levels was found to be ideal for cancer prevention, which means 600,000 cases of breast and colorectal cancer could be prevented each year with sufficient exposure to sunlight."
Vitamin D and Mental Health
Sunlight, or lack thereof, is linked to not only poor health but mental health problems, namely seasonal disorders (seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) and depression. According to the Vitamin D Council, research indicates a link between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and depression.
Though vitamin D's affect on the brain isn't completely understood, vitamin D receptors present in brain cells indicates vitamin D's role in brain function -- these receptors are found in brain areas linked to the development of depression.
Researchers believe that vitamin D may help treat depression. The Vitamin D Council suggests that vitamin D affects certain brain chemicals, known as monoamines (neurotransmitters that include adrenaline and serotonin). Monoamines are used in anti-depressant medications and increase the amount of monoamines (i.e. serotonin) in the brain, but vitamin D doesn't have to come in the form of a pill -- it could be as simple as stepping into sunlight!
Treating Depression With Light
Mood Disorders Manitoba states that people with SAD or depressive symptoms (low mood, lack of interest in usual activities, decreased concentration, fatigue, and low energy, especially during the dark months of the year) can benefit from exercise and phototherapy, but the easiest treatment is to go outside to receive maximum sunlight.
Mood Disorders suggests ways of maximizing light exposure in the home to reap the benefits of sunlight: trim tree branches that block light from coming through the window, keep your curtains open during the day, and rearrange furniture so that people can sit near a window.
To bring more light into your life, windows are incredibly important. I am lucky enough to have the length of my living space lined with windows. The light is glorious all year around because of the southern exposure.
I am fortunate to have this feature in my place but I know other people who live in dark and rather gloomy houses with few windows and limited natural light. Adding windows or replacing existing windows to maximize light is a great step. I'm always in support of Canadian- and locally-made goods, and I know that Windows Canada manufactures light-giving replacement windows in Canada and custom designs them in Toronto.
As Mood Disorders suggests, installing a skylight will also help to increase the light that comes into your home. Columbia Skylights in Vancouver offers several different styles of skylights to brighten residential and commercial spaces.
If new windows and skylights are not in the cards for you, try hanging more mirrors in your home. Mirrors reflect light and can really brighten up a room and make it appear larger -- especially good for those who live in small or dark spaces.
Sunlight is necessary for all living things on the planet; for humans, it makes us happy and keeps our mental and physical health in check. There is no such thing as too much light, so turn on the lamps, swing back the drapes, open the doors, or simply step outside for a rush of health-sustaining sunlight.
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