Originally published on March 9, 2021
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- If you've been in a better mood over the past week, you might want to look towards to sky to say thanks.
The bright sun and spring-like warmth has a way of lifting our spirits. And with daylight saving time around the corner, that had us wondering why does the sun make us happy? Good Question. Jeff Wagner learned how it brightens our day in more ways than one.
The sun has incredible power that goes well beyond providing earth's natural light. It not only creates life, it improves it.
What is it about the sun that makes you happy?
"Well after not having the sun for so long it just feels good to be out and get some vitamin D," said Kayla Koep, who was enjoying a picnic with her nanny charge Millie near Bde Maka Ska.
"It's kind of hard when the sun's out to go outside and not smile," added Randy Booen.
Is there something physically happening in our brain when we get more sunlight?
"Absolutely," said Dr. Michael Howell, neurologist with M Health Fairview. "There's all sorts of different neurotransmitters that release to help us wake up and help us remind ourselves that we need to interact with each other and feel better about ourselves and each other."
Exposure to sunlight also releases serotonin in the brain. Serotonin boosts a person's mood. A lack of sunlight can lead to a lack of serotonin, increasing the chances for someone to feel depressed or suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
That's why those winter months can be tough. According to climatemps.com, in Minnesota the average amount of sunlight per day in December is under four hours. In March, the average jumps past six hours per day. By July, it peaks at 10 hours.
What are we missing when we don't have the sun?
"We miss vitamin D," said Howell. "Vitamin D is a critically important hormone. To help, it increases our energy levels. It makes for healthy bones and joints."
That means your bones can get weaker in the winter months. Howell adds that low levels of vitamin D can weaken a person's immune system.
"I actually started using a sun lamp last year and upped medication and started taking vitamin D," said Koep.
The ability of the sun to lift your mood while physically making you healthier creates a combination that benefits your body and mental health.
"Your body's circadian rhythm, its 24 hour clock, helps balance your physical health and your mental health," said Howell.
As the sunshine increases thanks to daylight saving time, Howell suggests you get about 10-15 minutes of it in the morning to start your day. Then, take advantage of it in the evening through exercise.
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