No One Realizes All the Strange Ways the Sun Affects Your Body
You’ve heard it before — wear sunscreen all year, no matter how sunny it looks outside. And though you may know the sun best for its harmful ultraviolet rays, it has more effects on your body than you think.
You need plenty of natural light for your mental and physical health, that’s for sure. Here are all the ways — good and bad — that the sun impacts you, including the surprising effect it has on your heart (No. 9).
1. Your mood gets a boost
Feeling blue in the winter? Even if you don’t have seasonal affective disorder making you more depressed during the colder months, it’s likely you’ll feel happier when the sun’s out.
Medical Daily reports sunlight exposure naturally increases your serotonin levels, making you more alert. And if you do feel depressed in the winter, it’s wise to get outside on those sunnier days, even if the temperature is cold. The additional vitamin D will greatly help your brain.
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2. Your bones and muscles benefit
You know calcium helps your bones stay strong — but so does the sun. Health reports vitamin D, the micronutrient you get from the sun, helps the body better absorb calcium. There was also a Danish study that found those who had a history of skin cancer also had a lower risk of hip fractures if they were younger than 90.
And it’s not just your bones that get the sun’s benefits. Vitamin D helps keep muscle and joint pain away, too.
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3. Your blood pressure may lower
If you’re at risk of heart disease, it may be wise to get into the sun a little more often (while wearing sunscreen, of course). WebMD says when sunlight touches you, nitric oxide, a colorless gas stored in the skin, releases. This causes your blood vessels to widen and lowers your blood pressure.
Researchers believe if they can continue finding good results with this, then they may be able to use ultraviolet light exposure as a way to help with heart disease.
Next: Your joints will thank you for the sunlight.
4. You may be less likely to develop arthritis
If you’re dealing with arthritis, it might not be a bad idea to get out in the sun. Everyday Health explains research shows an estimated 75% of American teens and adults aren’t getting the proper amount of vitamin D — and this can severely impact your joints.
Studies have shown those with osteoarthritis tend to have lower vitamin D levels than others. And in those with rheumatoid arthritis, a lack of vitamin D was associated with worsened symptoms. If getting into the sun more often isn’t possible for you, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement, too.
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5. Your vision is likely to get worse
As you age, it’s natural for your vision to not be as sharp as it once was — but the sun may also be speeding up this process. Reader’s Digest explains research has shown that the UV rays that are harmful to your skin can also affect your eyes, especially if you’re over 40. This means frequent sun exposure may lead to cataracts, or in some extreme cases, blindness.
And the best way to protect your eyes? A good pair of sunglasses should help.
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6. Your lungs might take some damage
While the sun’s rays may benefit your joints, the same can’t be said for your lungs. NPR reports pollution gets a lot more potent when chemicals in the air are exposed to direct sunlight and heat. And when you’re breathing that air in, it can irritate your lungs and cause inflammation.
This can be particularly bad for children, as inflammation in their airways can lead to an asthma attack. The elderly and those with known lung or heart issues should also be careful.
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7. Your melanoma risk increases
The American Cancer Society reminds us that most moles don’t ever turn into melanoma, a very dangerous type of skin cancer. But some moles do turn cancerous. And while we know UV rays can lead to more common types of skin cancer like basal cell carcinoma and squamous carcinoma, they can also lead to the development of melanoma.
The sun’s rays can damage your DNA, which is what causes cancer. Always wear a high-quality sunscreen when you know you’ll be outside, no matter how cloudy it may seem.
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8. Your risk of developing multiple sclerosis may lower
Multiple sclerosis stands as one of the most common diseases affecting the central nervous system. There’s currently no cure, though research shows the sun may help MS patients currently and could assist in preventing you from developing the disease in the future.
Health explains evidence suggests those who get less sun exposure in their lifetime have a higher risk of developing MS. As for those who already have it, vitamin D may play a role in slowing the progression. And Healthline says other studies found the sun’s UVB rays may help here as well.
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9. Your heart may get some added protection
It turns out getting into the sun might be great for your cardiovascular health. A 2012 study found mice that were exposed to a lightbox were protected from tissue damage when researchers induced heart attacks on them, Men’s Health reports. The mice that did not receive the same light treatment saw more damage.
Researchers found more proteins that protect your heart are found on your body when you enter the sun. The mice that got the light treatment had four times as many proteins as the mice who did not.
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10. Your breast cancer risk may lower
There’s good news for those who are concerned about their breast cancer risk. Science Daily reports research shows increased levels of vitamin D may decrease the risk of developing advanced breast cancer. And one of the best ways to get more vitamin D is to get more sun exposure.
The recent findings were only seen in women with naturally light skin, however. Researchers found women with darker skin tones produce less vitamin D when exposed to the sun, so this may be why light-skinned women saw more conclusive results.
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11. Your risk of pancreatic cancer might lower, too
You may not think of your pancreatic cancer risk often, but Health reminds us it’s the seventh deadliest type in the world. There is some promising news, though. UC San Diego Health reports researchers found the countries with the lowest levels of sunlight have the highest levels of pancreatic cancer. That leads them to believe higher levels of vitamin D can help keep pancreatic cancer away.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: Feeling sunshine through a window won’t give your body the vitamin D it needs. So get outside and get some actual sun exposure for the benefits.
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12. You’ll have healthier sleep patterns
If you find you’re getting more restful sleep in the summertime, there may be a reason why. A study from the University of Colorado at Boulder discovered exposure to natural sunlight helps regulate your biological clock. Your sleep schedule naturally syncs with the rising and setting of the sun, and exposure to the light can help you get that great night of sleep you’ve been looking for, Reader’s Digest notes.
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13. Your digestion may improve
Not only does vitamin D help your body absorb calcium, but it also plays a key role in your digestive system. Everyday Health explains those who have healthy levels of vitamin D may have a healthier digestive tract and a reduced risk of developing colon cancer. And of course, one of the best ways to get your vitamin D is to get out in the sun.
For those with an inflammatory bowel disease, your doctor may also recommend taking a vitamin D supplement to help with symptoms.
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14. Headaches are a lot more common
You’ve probably been in this situation: You’re outside enjoying a beautiful day when you feel a headache coming on. Unfortunately, this is quite common. Healthfully explains the heat from the sunlight can cause blood vessels in the brain to dilate, and glare can give your eyes issues. Both of these can contribute to headaches.
If you know you’ll be in the heat for extended periods, bring a frozen plastic bottle of water with you. You can use it as an ice pack and drink it when it thaws throughout the day.
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15. You’ll have skin damage for hours after sun exposure
You may think burns from the sun end as soon as you remove yourself from the outdoors — but that’s not the case. Women’s Health reports scientists at Yale found sun-induced skin damage continues for hours after you’re out of the sun’s rays. This is why your light sunburn might look 10 times worse two to four hours after you’ve come back inside.
It’s important to reapply sunscreen when you’re outdoors even if you don’t see any hint of sunburn. You’ll thank yourself for the added protection later.
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