How facing the sun the right way can help with better recovery, stronger bones, weight loss, better mood and sleep.
You do not need to be a local or long-term expat in Hong Kong to know, that many Asians have a reluctant relationship with the sun. In many Asian countries, fair skin, especially with females, is associated with youthful radiant beauty while a tan, judging from many Asian cosmetic ads, equals a dull almost dirty complexion. That is why there is no lack of whitening products in Mannings or Watson's and why we often spot people wearing solar visors, long-sleeves, long pants and umbrellas during a hot and sunny day.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for sun protection. But getting a bit of healthy sun time is actually good for us for various reasons:
- Stronger bones, stronger muscles, better recovery
This is all achieved by vitamin D. Unlike, most vitamins we only get tiny amounts of vitamin D from food. The majority is generated by our skin when it is hit by sunlight or UVB to be more specific. Since fair skin is desirable and most people in Hong Kong work indoors, it is no big surprise that the majority of the Hong Kong population is vitamin D deficient. Suffering from a lack of vitamin D can be the cause for slower recovery from workouts or injuries, osteoporosis in older adults or misshapen teeth in children or infants.
- Better mood and sleep
Being exposed to natural sunlight especially in the morning helps you sleep better at night. Natural sunlight at the right time can help to regulate the brain's internal clock by helping us produce a neurotransmitter, called serotonin. With serotonin, the brain can set itself up for a proper sleep-wake-cycle. Better sleep makes us more resilient towards stress and improves our overall mood.
- Weight loss
One brain region serotonin is also targeting is a region deep inside the brain, called the hypothalamus. We know that depleted serotonin levels can make us moody. Studies also suggest that a low serotonin level in the hypothalamus can cause an increase of appetite and stronger cravings for carbs and also slows down our metabolism. That means with some time in the sun we tend to eat less and burn more calories.
Like with so many things it depends: on your ethnicity, skin type, location, season, time of day. There is actually a calculator which can calculate your minimum sun exposure to get enough vitamin D. But the rough general thumb of rule is that those people who tend to tan and not burn can get around 10-18 minutes of sunlight exposure without sunscreen, fair-skinned people need to get out of the sun after 3-8 minutes, while those with darker skin may require up to six times the sun exposure of a fair-skinned person to reap the same benefits.
In the next post, we'll talk about sun protection:
- Finding the right balance.
- What to consider when to pick sunscreen.
- Widespread harmful chemicals in common sunscreen.
- Paleo alternatives.