Healing Benefits of Sunlight


By Catherine Guthrie  |  

Healing Sunlight

Increase your exposure to morning light and you may slow the onset of common aging-related illnesses such as insomnia, cognitive slowdown, and depression, according to a growing body of research. When your eyes take in bright light, especially the blue-spectrum light found in sunlight, nerve cells in the retina send messages to the brain’s internal clock. This helps set your body’s circadian rhythm, the synching of physiological processes with the 24-hour solar cycle. Among other things, the circadian rhythm governs the timing of the brain’s release of cortisol and other hormones that keep you alert during the day, as well as melatonin, which puts you to sleep at night.

As you age, the pupils of your eyes narrow and the lenses yellow, and your eyes take in less blue-spectrum light (half as much at 45 as at 10 years old). These changes can throw off your circadian rhythm—affecting sleep quality, alertness, and mood—and may also increase risk for insulin resistance, heart disease, and cancer, since the circadian rhythm affects key hormonal processes in the body.

Luckily, boosting your exposure to blue light is as easy as going outside without sunglasses, says Patricia Turner, co- author of several studies on light and the aging of the eyes. She recommends at least 20 minutes in the sun early in the day: “Daylight is bluest in the morning, so it’s the optimal time to set your body’s clock.”

Note: Sunlight has lovely, healing qualities, but always remember to apply sunscreen to protect against dangerous rays. Learn more in Sun Safely.

Herbal Rx: Plant Medicine

Grow your own herbs and healing plants and have them on hand to soothe minor health complaints. The following plants thrive in containers on a windowsill or balcony.

Lemon Balm
Soothes: Upset stomach, bloating, and gas; anxiety
How to: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 tablespoon fresh leaves and steep for 10 minutes before drinking.
Grow Tip: Prefers full sun or partial shade

German Chamomile
Soothes: Stress, insomnia, muscle cramps
How to: Steep 1 tablespoon of fresh flowers in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes before drinking.
Grow Tip: Ideally suited for part-sun, part-shade

Aloe Vera
Soothes: Kitchen burns, sunburn, cuts, and irritated skin
How to: Cut a leaf from the plant, peel away the tough outer skin, and apply the gel-like flesh directly to y our skin.
Grow Tip: Pot with sandy soil; water infrequently

Brain Health: Water Works

After your lunchtime yoga class, be sure to have a good long drink before returning to your desk. A new study conducted at the University of Connecticut found that women who became dehydrated after exercise suffered from poorer concentration than those who replenished their fluids.