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Why light is essential

Bring me sunshine….

I seem to be drawing the curtains earlier each day at the moment, and already thinking about bringing out the Christmas decs just to have some indoor sparkly lights! Anyone else the same out there??!!

A natural dappled sunlight is crucial to human health and well-being. Interestingly it relates to how light hits the retina at the back of your eye and how we perceive light and shadow. How our body functions depend on our “body clock” and light helps us to manage this. It forms a huge part of our circadian rhythm that helps us rest and be active at optimal times of the day - it supports our mental health, enables us to maintain a healthy weight, helps us deal with stress, repair the body, boosts our immune system etc.

Whilst we must take care to how we expose ourselves to sunlight, from time of day, length of time in the sun and the application of sun cream as well as covering up etc, we should not discount the huge benefits that sunshine brings to the body via Vitamin D. Vitamin D is obtained from sunlight - this vitamin helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body to keep our bones and muscles healthy – but lack of it is related to fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness, depression, hair loss and slow healing of cuts etc. As someone who suffered from chronic pain, I craved sunlight, and it seems that Vit D also plays its part here too – in a study in 2017, by Helde-Franklin they found that people with low levels of Vitamin D had increased pain and a resulting increase in pain-relieving medicine to help. A simple 10 minutes in the sun can help reduce pain and increase feelings of well-being.

Vitamin D is key to bone density – and remember, that this is a significant factor if you are also going through the menopause – by keeps calcium within its normal range to maintain cellular function and mineralise the skeleton to keep it strong. Vit D deficiency has also been linked to increased chances of cancer, cardiovascular disease, MS, arthritis, and Type 1 Diabetes. So sensible sun exposure, along with a diet that has fish, eggs, a small amount in meat and wild mushrooms, plus taking a supplement if these are not part of your current diet.

Sunlight also stimulates melatonin in our bodies. Melatonin is a hormone, sometimes known as the “biological night”, and it plays an important role in our circadian cycle. Melatonin increases in the evening as the light diminishes and this then helps us relax and feel sleepy. One of the easiest ways to help us activate our melatonin is to reduce light - including the blue light rays that we experience when we look at our phones, tablets or the tv. The optic nerve in your eye needs to detect that the natural light is diminishing, this is then a trigger to the hypothalamus to release melatonin. So, dial down the lights in your room as you approach bedtime.

Light can also be used to help restore your circadian rhythms by altering the level of light that you expose your body to in the day. It is therefore recommended that you try to exercise outdoors in brighter light, exposing your body to around 10 times lighter than inside. Exercising outdoors also helps with the regulation of depression and levels of cortisol as well as making your body see and feel the difference between “night & day”. Anything between 20mins to an hour of moderate is recommended to help adjust your body clock. It doesn’t matter if it is a cloudy day as the sunlight will often be brighter than the lights in your office or home – but you may want to walk/run/cycle for longer on a dull day. You may find that heavy weight training can affect sleep as your body recovers from the workout, with resulting temporary muscle ache – but it is a small price to pay for a one night as weight training is good for you!

But all light is not equal – and over exposure to non-natural light – or light pollution if you wish has been shown when looking too long a bright indoor lights heats up the retina and causes damage (although, I am hoping fairy lights will still be ok…)

So, if possible, always walk on the sunny side of the street xx

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