Sunshine’s Magic

May 19, 2020 | coronavirus

Dev Mishra, M.D.

President, Sideline Sports Doc

Medical Director, Apeiron Life

Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

May 19, 2020

Key Points:

  • As social distancing requirements are eased in the U.S. it will be possible for more people to safely get outdoors and enjoy some sunshine
  • Sunlight exposure in the right amounts has a positive effect on mood and the immune system
  • It’s important to follow appropriate precautions outdoors, especially for physical spacing and hand sanitization

The days are getting longer, the weather is generally decent, and many states are starting to ease restrictions necessary to limit the spread of coronavirus. This means that for many of us it’s possible to spend a little bit more time outside now in sunshine.

There are many positive benefits from appropriate amounts of sunshine, including improved mood and likely benefits on your immune system.

By following outdoor precautions it’s possible for many of us to now start feeling sunshine’s magic.

Sunshine’s Effects On The Immune System

 Even before the shelter in place orders too many Americans were spending far too much time indoors and not getting adequate exposure to sunlight. This has only worsened after the shelter in place orders went into effect. It’s estimated that more than half of all Americans do not produce enough vitamin D, which is activated in the human body by exposure to sunlight.

As little as 20 minutes of daily sunlight exposure can have several positive benefits:

  • Vitamin D has well-known positive effects on calcium metabolism and bone health
  • There is increasing evidence that vitamin D is involved in multiple body systems, and adequate amounts of vitamin D contribute positively to immune health
  • Vitamin D boosts the expression of hundreds of genes that are thought to help regulate immune function

Sunshine’s Effects On Mood

Exposure to sunlight has long been known to have a positive effect on mood, and reduction of depression symptoms. The exact reason for this is not known, but many scientists believe it may have something to do with the body’s production of melatonin. Exposure to morning sunlight in particular helps to regulate wakefulness and improve affect.

The Right Amount: Just Enough, But Not Too Much

It’s important to note that there is a balance between getting enough sunshine for positive benefits and over exposure to sunshine that can lead to skin damage and skin cancer risk.

20 minutes of daily exposure seems about right for most people, but for those who are looking for a more accurate gauge consider this app which tracks the amount of vitamin D that your body is getting from sunlight exposure and warns you when you are staying outdoors too long.

Follow Proper Physical Distancing Precautions

It seems that the risk of getting coronavirus from outdoor exposure is quite a bit lower than it is from indoor exposure. Still, the risk from outdoor exposure is not zero and it is wise to continue to follow appropriate physical distancing precautions.

  • Ideally, you should socialize only with people who live in your home
  • It’s important to keep gatherings small. There is no exact definition of “small” – use your best judgment here
  • Don’t share food, utensils or beverages
  • Keep your hands clean
  • Maintain at least six feet spacing from people who don’t live in your home

 

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