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How to maximise the health benefits of spring

How light affects our wellbeing as the days get longer and we have more opportunities to be outside.

Cottonmill Spa

As the days get longer there are some very real reasons why we tend to feel happier and more positive as we step into spring. It's not just that it's nice when it's light out - there are tangible reasons why more sunlight improves our sense of mental and physical wellness. In this article we look at how light affects our health and what we can do to maximise the health benefits of spring.

How light affects our health

Studies show that increased sunlight improves our mood and energy levels for a couple of reasons. While we all enjoy the the warmth that typically comes with spring and the move towards summer, but it's actually the light that has the biggest impact on how we feel.

Sunlight increases serotonin

Research indicates that sunlight helps the body to produce serotonin, linked to our sense of happiness and wellbeing. It's understood that this can happen in two ways. The first is that exposure to sunlight as it passes through the eye affects parts of the retina that trigger serotonin production.

However, another possibility, according to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, is that sunshine may directly stimulate the production of serotonin through the skin. They say:

"Research indicates that the skin has the serotonergic machinery to perform this task."

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Sunlight affects our circadian rhythm

Another reason the increased amount of light that we experience in the spring impacts our wellbeing is because of the way it interacts with our circadian rhythm. It's not just that there's more light, but a better quality of light at this time of year, and that can improve our quality of sleep as our inbuilt body clock responds. That in itself tends to make us feel happier, but in addition, the quality of light has a direct impact on our mood as well.

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Sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D

Sunlight is also known to help our bodies produce vitamin D, which is good for our health in lots of ways. Harvard University wrote:

"It is a fat-soluble vitamin that has long been known to help the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus; both are critical for building bone. Also, laboratory studies show that vitamin D can reduce cancer cell growth, help control infections and reduce inflammation. Many of the body’s organs and tissues have receptors for vitamin D, which suggest important roles beyond bone health, and scientists are actively investigating other possible functions."

As a result, the reported benefits of natural light include:

  1. Improved mood
  2. Higher energy levels
  3. More inclination to exercise
  4. Improved skin feeling and appearance
  5. Better sleep patterns
  6. Fewer feelings of sluggishness
  7. A more positive outlook
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Make the most of the wellbeing benefits of spring

With that in mind, how can we take full advantage of the benefits of spring and the longer days as the clocks change?

You don't have to do anything particularly fancy to make the most of the increased levels of natural light - just give yourself a chance to be exposed to it! For example:

Spend more time outside:

Go for a walk on your lunch break, or maybe get off the train or bus one stop earlier in order to get a little extra fresh air on the way to or from work.

Spend time near windows:

If you can't get outside, at least spend time absorbing the natural light when you can. If you can work near a window rather than relying on artificial lighting, you can help your body get the benefits of all that great vitamin D.

Open the curtains:

We don't need to block out quite so much of the winter gloom any more - keep the curtains open when you can. If you aren't going to be kept awake by street lights at night, you could even keep the curtains open to help you wake up with the natural light in the morning.

Re-prioritise your sleep:

Just because it's getting lighter out later, don't forget to make sleep a priority. Stick to a routine if you can to really make the most of the wellbeing benefits that this time of year has to offer.

Meet with friends for a walk:

Instead of socialising by sitting inside all the time, why not head out for a walk and enjoy the fresh air together? It's not just great for absorbing the light, but it's a good way to get moving without thinking too much about it!

Get into the garden:

Whether you have a kitchen windowsill with a few herbs on it or a nice big garden to enjoy, growing plants isn't just a good way to get outside, but it also boosts your mood in other ways too. The physical movement of planting things, the sense of achievement from seeing plants and vegetables flourish, and even getting your hands into the earth has benefits. Did you know that soil contains the bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae that is absorbed through the skin of the fingers and palms when gardening, triggering a release of serotonin in the brain?

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