This poem by Tony Hoagland is as beautiful as the sunlight it talks about. But as the weather turns warmer, Indians tend to scurry away and hide from the hot ball of light in the sky. But you'll be doing yourself more harm than good. Early morning sun, when it's not so hot, does wonders for your body and soul. So don't hide from the heat, don't shy from the light. You'll benefit in countless ways. Read on...
Happiness is a warm sun
I get mopey when I don't get to go out in the sun, and just a few minutes spent stretching out in it lifts my mood," says actress Renuka Shahane. "Warm morning sun is the best, of course, but even its severe rays don't scare me; I soak them up and my mood moves from mopey to magnificent. My most creative ideas come when I am sitting out in the sun; in the cold my brain kind of freezes. It's the warmth that does the trick, I feel."
Shahane's mood changes aren't just a figment of her imagination - As more Indians live insulated lives away from the elements, we miss out on all the benefits of being outdoors too. Sure, summer days can get torturously uncomfortable. But avoiding the sun totally can spell disaster too - for body and mind.
Vitamin D, which the body produces in the presence of sunlight, is responsible for neuron growth and has a positive effect on our moods. A 2002 study by scientists at Melbourne's Baker Research Institute, published in the Lancet journal, showed that the brain produces more of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin (a natural anti-depressant) on sunny days than on cloudy days. This cheers us up and positively influences our moods.
Another study, this one by the University of Colorado in 2009, found that as the temperature goes up, so does our sense of well-being. Scientist Christopher Lowry, an assistant professor of integrative physiology, studied the link between temperature and mood and stated that people intuitively associate feeling warm with a sense of relaxation and well-being. That explains why we are far happier catching some morning sun before our day begins than being cooped for the whole day with stale cold air conditioning and harsh fluorescent lighting.
Of course, the sun also radiates light, and light represents positivity and happiness; maybe that's why we all have a lot of positive emotions and memories connected to the sun.
Alankrita Shrivastava, director of the 2011 film Turning Thirty, is an absolute sun worshipper. "Last year I shot a documentary about the cultural history of Bihar and there, in places like Bodh Gaya and on the banks of the Ganga, I shot some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. It made the assignment really special," she says. "I still cherish the moments when I'd set up the camera and soak up the energy as the sun changed size. My body clock functions in tandem with the sun, so I am thankful that I live in a place like Mumbai, where it's sunny for most of the year. Early morning is the best time of the day for me. I live on the 14th floor and have huge windows in my bedroom. Being woken up by natural light rather than an alarm clock marks a positive beginning to my day."
Getting some sunshine early in the day also keeps the sleep-wake up cycle on track (and insomnia away), which again is important for mood regulation. That's because getting natural light during the day increases our melatonin output at night (melatonin is a natural hormone made by our bodies; it enhances sleep and slows down the ageing process). Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water and let a little sunshine into your life, your body and soul will thank you.
Knee pain was a constant companion for actress Renuka Shahane all through the 2010 TV dance contest Jhalak Dikhla Ja. She blamed it on the sit-ups she was putting in while practising her dance moves. But her doctor thought otherwise. "The first thing he asked me was when was the last time I had been really out in the sun," recalls Shahane. Although the question foxed her, she realised that it was bang on the mark. "Ever since I had taken a sabbatical to look after my home and children full time, my outdoor time was limited," she explains. "I had totally neglected to soak up the sun." Sure enough, Shahane's tests indicated low levels of Vitamin D3, which was causing the pain. Her doctor's advice was simple: early morning sun (8-9am) every day for 15 minutes. Shahane's levels soon returned to normal.
Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium in the body, says Dr Rommel Tickoo, consultant on internal medicine at Max Hospital, Delhi. "It prevents brittle bones. In fact, our body gets 80 per cent of its Vitamin D from sunlight as the food sources of this vitamin are few," he says. Good examples of these include tuna, egg yolk, liver, fatty fish and fortified cereals.
In addition, research published in 2008 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, shows that people with the lowest Vitamin D levels have more than twice the risk of dying from heart disease and stroke, when compared to those who have high Vitamin D levels.
In fact, an Oxford University study has revealed that childhood exposure to sunlight appears to dramatically reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis later in life. The big daddy of all, cancer, too can be arrested with enough Vitamin D.
"Although there are reports that overexposure to the sun increases the risk of skin cancer (Indians because of their darker skin are thankfully less prone to it), Vitamin D from sunlight can actually help reduce the risk of other types of cancer significantly," says Dr Rajeev Moger, senior consultant on internal medicine at Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore. A study carried out by the US National Cancer Institute found that people exposed to high levels of sunlight were significantly less likely to die from breast and colon cancer. A similar effect was seen in cases of bladder, womb, oesophagus and stomach cancer too.
A hot day will make you tired and dehydrated, so keep it simple - small doses of weak sunshine (dawn and dusk) and plenty of fluids. "The sun's rays also boost the production of white blood cells, which strengthens our immune system," says Dr Tickoo. "And if you are looking to lose weight, step out in the sun a bit more, as higher levels of serotonin in our bodies not only makes us happier but also suppress appetite."
The effect in fact is two-pronged: "The sun also helps us lose weight by increasing the metabolic rate by stimulating the thyroid," Dr Tickoo adds. Good news all around!
Dr Chytra V Anand, cosmetic dermatologist at Bangalore's Kosmoderma Skin & Laser Clinic, says spending some time in the sun is a ticket to glowing skin. "Moderately tanned skin is more resistant to infections than untanned skin," she says, adding that diseases like acne, psoriasis, eczema can be controlled through controlled exposure to the sun. Dr Swati Srivastava, Mumbai based dermatocosmetologist, says we should all "aim for 15-20 minutes of mild sun exposure without sunscreen during the day and use an appropriate sunscreen when stepping out in harsh sunlight."
The sun is great for your hair too. "The sun's rays help keep hair free of infections, but excessive exposure may make it dry and lighten the colour. So keep a scarf or a hat handy," adds Dr Srivastava.
The ultraviolet rays in sunshine act as a natural antiseptic. These rays kill viruses, bacteria, yeasts, fungi and mites in the air, in water, on your carpets and blankets and the day's washing. Apart from being an effective germ killer, sunlight can also prevent the rooms in your house from becoming damp and mouldy. In feng shui, the sun is the symbol of health and is the giver of life. Feng shui expert Jayme Barrett writes in her book Feng Shui Your Life that light can make a big difference in how we feel: "It lifts the energy of a room, brightens your day, expands the space and inspires new ideas."
So bury your nose in the clean scent of air-dried laundry, replace heavy drapes with airy sheers. Expose as many rooms as possible to fresh air and sunlight on a regular basis. If you are worried about furniture and pictures fading, try rearranging your room so that your valuable items are out of the path of direct sunlight.
From HT Brunch, April 14
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