Spending time in the sun is great for our body and mind. We've been using sunlight to improve our health for thousands of years and now there's scientific evidence that soaking up rays might lower your risk of developing high blood pressure. Relaxing at the beach or in the comfort of your garden could help your heart - here's why.
Most of the vitamin D in our body is produced using energy from light. When UV rays in sunlight collide with our skin cells, a chemical reaction takes place. Cholesterol molecules inside the skin cells are turned into vitamin D, which helps to regulate blood pressure.
Many of us aren't meeting our recommended daily dose of vitamin D, which is 600IU for people aged 1 to 70. If you're struggling to reach this target, you're increasing your risk of developing heart and circulatory disease. Around one in five adults in the UK are thought to be lacking in vitamin D – it's one of the common vitamin deficiencies. So when the sun's shining, open the curtains and dust off your sun lounger – it will help your body produce this important heart health vitamin.
Melatonin, a pigment in our skin cells, can alter the amount of vitamin D we produce from sunlight. People who are fair-skinned or sun-sensitive generally have suboptimal levels of vitamin D. This may be because they're more likely to cover up when outside, avoiding exposure to the sun.
Endorphins are hormones that are released when we engage in enjoyable activities like eating, laughing and for some of us, exercising. These brain chemicals make us feel good and also act to relieve physical pain. Endorphins are released when we're exposed to UV rays from sunlight. The release of these hormones temporarily causes blood pressure to lower and may help to reduce a person's risk of developing heart disease. Spending just a few minutes in the sun is enough to release endorphins into your brain, improving your mood and helping your heart.
Serotonin is another chemical that's released when we're having fun in the sun. It's a feel-good hormone that regulates our wellbeing and is directly responsible for how happy we're feeling. Low serotonin levels can make you feel anxious, worried and depressed. Fortunately, exposure to sunlight can automatically release serotonin from your brain, improving your mood and helping reduce stress. Continuously being stressed or anxious increases your chance of having a cardiac event. It can also shorten your life. Unwinding outside on a sunny day can help combat stress, helping to keep both you and your heart healthy.