A natural antidepressant? The sun! In fact, exposure to sunlight has been shown to improve mood, to counteract anxiety and depression, to increase energy but also to protect the health of the body, especially as regards the heart and kidneys. And this also in people with heart disease and an increased risk of depression, as emerges from a recent scientific research published in the journal Heliyon by a research group from Taiwan (Wang et al, Heliyon, 2020).
The benefits of sunlight
Light is used to treat or mitigate various problems, such as sleep disorders, cognitive decline but also anxiety and depression. Natural light has the advantage of being available to everyone, but it is necessary to expose yourself to the sun with the necessary precautions. You should avoid the central hours of the day, when the irradiation is higher, and a good choice is to protect the exposed parts with a sunscreen.
Sunlight, vitamin D and serotonin
One of the most interesting benefits of sunlight is that it stimulates the body to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is associated with the well-being of the kidneys and heart, helps to keep blood pressure under control, counteracts inflammation but also protects the mood and the brain, decreasing the risk of depression. Not only that, it is believed that sunlight stimulates the skin to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter also called the good mood hormone, at the basis of the regulation of the sleep-wake rhythm. All these characteristics lead to the belief that sunlight therapy can bring important benefits to the body, mood and mind.
How sunlight can counteract depression, the experiment
To verify and test the benefits of sunlight therapy, the researchers performed an experiment recruiting 46 people, over the age of 20, all with a history of stroke or heart attack and an increased risk of depression. The participants were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to undergo light therapy, which consisted of exposing legs and calves at least 30 minutes a day for a total of 14 days over the course of four weeks. The second group was used instead as a control. Before starting the experiment, four weeks after the end of the experiment and after another four weeks, the volunteers were subjected to tests to assess their physical and mental health.
The sun protects the heart and improves the quality of life, the results
What emerged is that the group undergoing sunlight therapy had a lower risk of depression, but this effect was found only after two months after therapy. This indicates that the action of sunlight on the emotional response is not immediate but that it takes time to show its effects. Regarding cognitive function, sunlight has not shown to be able to influence it, in fact, no differences were found in the two groups. Instead, immediate benefits have been found with regards to heart health, with a lower risk of hospitalization and further treatments. However, this benefit was observed only in the short term, in conjunction with sun exposure, and disappeared two months after the end of the sunlight therapy. Finally, the quality of life is also improved following exposure to sunlight. In fact, in the group that had been exposed to the sun, there was an increase in daily activities, life in general was therefore more active, and this both in the short and in the long term, two months after the end of the therapy with sunlight.
So, exposing yourself to the sun, always with the necessary precautions, is not only pleasant but also good for the mood, counteracting anxiety and depression, and for the body. In fact, the heart and kidneys benefit from it, since the sun's rays, stimulating the production of vitamin D, help to keep blood pressure under control, to improve insulin resistance and blood flow.