It’s the end of May and the lockdown restrictions are easing. The end of the Covid-19 quarantine is now in sight.
The UK is set to bask in glorious weather for the next week or so, which is perfect timing as we now we have extra freedoms to get out and roam the local parks and beaches.
Whilst we may have become hermit-like after 65 days of quarantine, and it may feel alien to go outside, there are believed to major health benefits to enjoying the sun…
There’s no doubt that sunshine can make a world of difference to our mood.
When light enters the eye, it stimulates neurons in the hypothalamus, the control centre of the brain. The hypothalamus then sends instructions to the pineal gland via nerve impulses.
The pineal gland, a pea-shaped gland in the brain, is responsible for regulating the release of serotonin, a feel-good hormone. When it’s light we produce more melatonin which, is a mood-lifter, means we should feel more happier and upbeat.
Vitamin D is an important vitamin as it stimulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the intestines. These minerals are vital for the growth and development of strong bones. Indeed, bones contain over 99.5% of the calcium, and over 75% of the phosphorous, contained in the body.
Emerging research indicates there is a direct correlation between the vitamin D3 and bone density. Vitamin D3 is a fat-soluble vitamin which is formed when sunlight hits the skin. The evidence suggests the more vitamin D3 in your blood, the lower risk of suffering fractures of virtually all types.
Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood the heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in the arteries. The more blood the heart pumps, and the tighter the arteries, the higher the blood pressure.
When light touches the skin, a compound called nitric oxide is released into blood vessels. Nitric oxide is an important chemical as it causes blood vessels to dilute and widen. This reduces blood pressure, thereby alleviating some of the physical symptoms associated with anxiety and stress.
When sunlight hits our eyes, the hypothalamus instructs the pineal gland in the brain to reduce the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that makes us drowsy and helps us sleep. Conversely, when it gets dark outside, melatonin production increases.
If the eyes have been subject to darkness during the day, some people overproduce melatonin during the day and consequently under produce it in the evening. This has been linked to poor sleep quality, especially in older adults. Plentiful sunlight during the day should reduce the likelihood of this occurring.
Sunlight doesn't just help with sleep. It's believe that it can improve cognitive functions such as the forming, organising and storing of memories.
Studies have shown a relationship between lower vitamin D levels and reduced cognitive function. It's believed the science is down to the sunlight helping to stimulate nerve cell development in the hippocampus, part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Please remember to be care when exposing the skin to sunlight and if possible adhere to the following NHS guidelines.
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Written by Mike Firth, GP and Medical Director
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.