I have always been an early riser and I love to get up and out first thing. I particularly love to be out walking as the sun comes up. I often practise mindful walking for an hour or so to start my day and although I inherently know this practice is great for my mental and physical health, I was interested in the evidence that explains why.
Firstly, exposure to sunlight in the mornings helps to keep our circadian rhythms working properly, it alerts the body and the brain that the day has started. One of the ways it does this is by suppressing the production of melatonin, the hormone that encourages us to go to sleep and triggering the release of serotonin, the mood boosting hormone that makes us feel happier.
The area of the brain that controls alertness receives signals from specialised cells at the back of the eye and these are particularly sensitive to light in the blue part of the spectrum. Guess what? There is a higher proportion of blue light early in the morning and so this can make us feel more alert. It’s better than coffee apparently!
Early exposure to natural light also resets our body clock and that helps us to sleep better at night. It has been linked to better sleep quality and lower depression scores and can also improve SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I sleep really well so clearly this is working for me.
We also know that sunlight is important for the production of Vitamin D. When sunlight hits your skin, it converts cholesterol into vitamin D, which helps build strong bones and support the immune system. Because of the amount and levels of sunlight in the UK, most people in the UK would benefit from taking a Vitamin D supplement every day through the winter months. I spend so mush time outdoors I don’t bother but maybe I should. I know lots of people who are convinced it works for them.
So do we have to get out super early every day? If you’re not an early riser you will be pleased to hear the answer is no. It doesn’t matter what time you get up but it’s best to get out within 2 hours of waking.
And you don’t have to go for an hour’s brisk walk either (although that does bring significant fitness benefits too), just spending time in natural light can make a real difference to how you feel. I’d advocate combining this time with spending time in nature or in a green space. Early morning coffee outside anyone?
Have some time to yourself?
Enjoy better mental health?
Did you know you can do this in as little as 15 minutes a day?