Risks and Benefits of Soaking up the Sun

Health and Wellness

Our Wonderful (but also dangerous) Sunshine

I think we can all agree that the sunshine we get is not enough. We live in Rochester, NY after all. According to science, beautiful sunshine-filled days afford us with many benefits.

Did you know that our bodies produce Vitamin D when we are exposed to sunlight? Vitamin D helps our body maintain calcium, and we have stronger bones as a result. Vitamin D is also critical for our immune system, and with consistent exposure to sunlight, we can help strengthen it and reduce the risk of illness.

It’s not just in our head; there’s a scientific reason being in the sunshine improves our mood. Sunshine boosts our body’s level of serotonin, which is a chemical that improves our mood and helps us stay calm and focused. Increased exposure to natural light may help ease the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder – a change in mood that typically occurs in the fall and winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight.

Lastly, it improves our sleep. Our body creates a hormone called melatonin that is critical to helping us sleep. Research indicates that an hour of natural light in the morning will help us sleep better. Melatonin also lowers stress reactivity, and being outside will help your body naturally regulate melatonin, which can help reduce your stress level.

BUT WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

Most often, when there is a benefit, there is also a risk. In less than 15 minutes in the sun, we can get a sunburn. Even if it does not show up right away, it will appear within 2 – 6 hours. Most of us have experienced the pain, blistering, and peeling of a “good” sunburn. I know I have!

Even if you do not burn, extended exposure over our lifetime can cause early aging of our skin. We may start to see more wrinkles, dryness, sagging and a dull, leathery look. Pigment changes known as “age spots” appear, and our skin bruises more easily. Changes in the skin cells caused by prolonged exposure may lead to skin cancer, the most common of all cancers.

Prolonged sun and heat exposure can also cause dehydration. Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body does not have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions.

As wonderful as our sun is, we have to be cautious, especially with the people we support at The Arc of Monroe. Besides many of their inability to express discomfort from being in the sun too long, many are on medications that enhance the effects of the sun. Please remember the following VERY IMPORTANT suggestions when taking them outdoors:

  • Apply sunscreen before heading out
  • Wear protective head gear
  • Reapply every 2 hours while in the sun
  • Take plenty of fluids to drink

 

Sue Sproule is the Director of Nursing at The Arc of Monroe. She has 44 years of experience in nursing and four have been at The Arc of Monroe. To connect with Sue, email her at ssproule@arcmonroe.org

We hope this blog is helpful to you! Our Health Services team at The Arc of Monroe is a wealth of information. Our staff is made up of experienced professionals who primarily support people with disabilities. To learn more about who they are, visit our Health Services page. If you’re interested in working with us at The Arc of Monroe, visit our careers page. If you’d like to give and help make valuable resources like this possible, you can give online.