Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t take sunny days for granted, especially during our perpetually gray and wet winters.
Yesterday we were lucky enough to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day! It was really cold, at least by our standards, but a friend and I still bundled up and ventured out for a long walk along the beach.
And we weren’t alone. With the blue skies and the crowds of people, it seemed more like a summer day. Perhaps they read the same article I did a few weeks ago: Here’s a Major Health Reason to Get Outside During the Wintertime.
New research from Brigham Young University, published this month in the Journal of Affective Disorders, finds that sunlight exposure is by far the greatest weather-related factor determining mental health outcomes. In other words: more sunshine, more happiness.
If you’re getting enough sun, your emotions should remain relatively stable, the researchers found. But as the amount of sunlight in the day is reduced, levels of emotional distress can shoot up. Other weather variables including temperature, pollution and rain were not found to have an impact on mental health.
I’m not sure if I agree with them about the rain… 😉
Exercise helps mood, too, so getting outside for a walk, jog or bike ride in the winter sunshine whenever possible is a great idea.
If you can’t get outside, or it’s just too cold, open your blinds or curtains and soak up the sunshine through a window.
What about artificial light?
The BYU study didn’t indicate how much time we should spend in the sunshine to make a difference. However, people being treated with light therapy for moderate seasonal affective disorder (SAD) aim for about half an hour, once or twice a day.
Speaking of light therapy, you might think that simply buying one of those light boxes would work just as well.
The light boxes aren’t cheap (most are over $100) and there are no good studies showing that they are even effective.
Still, therapists recommend light therapy for seasonal depression because other than cost, the treatment is relatively risk free. And some people do benefit.
Before buying a light box, do some homework. The light needs to mimic natural light, and just any light bulb in any lamp won’t work. You need to know what kind of light is emitted (white or blue) and how much (measured in luxes).
Light boxes aren’t recommended for people with certain health conditions, either, such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, epilepsy or bipolar disorder.
But for most of us, simply taking advantage of those sunny days whenever we can will be enough to tide us over until spring.