a woman walking towards sunlight

The Importance of Sunlight With AS

I've lived in New York City for nearly 20 years — and for most of it, nature was just not a priority to me. I relished the cement jungle and came to the (incorrect) decision that I was "just not a nature person." (Hint: you can absolutely contain multitudes!)

Living in a city means finding nature where I can get it, which is usually in the botanical garden, a park, or the side of a road somewhere. I don't have a garden or yard, and my immediate surroundings aren't exactly drenched in the glorious sound of chirping birds.

It took a while, but it's recently dawned on me that the natural world, including the sun, is a total necessity. It benefits me physically and mentally. Getting a healthy dose of sunlight and exposure to green has had an effect on my disease activity and my mental health. And let’s be honest, our mental health and our disease activity are connected.

Sunlight helps reduce my flare-ups

When I was living in my last apartment, which had two — yes, TWO windows, both of which looked out to the dark interior of alleyways (with coverage from other buildings and no true sun exposure) I had a lot more flare-ups.

This is not a scientific experiment by any means, but I noticed that upon moving into my new apartment, which is drenched in sunlight, I have fewer flare-ups. I also am exposed to green, as there are trees lining my back bedroom window and trees outside the windows in the front of my house.

I’m sure that those of you reading from a suburban or rural environment probably think what I’m saying sounds a bit strange, but when you live in a big city, exposure to nature is so rare. And I have a theory as to why sun and nature reduce my flare-ups.

First, there’s a lot of evidence that exposure to nature can actually decrease inflammation, steady heart rate, and reduce blood pressure.1 In fact, studies show that exposure to both outdoors and nature images from within the home is physiologically beneficial for us.2 Also, simply seeing nature outside my window makes me yearn to get out into it more often.

Sunlight and sleep health

Second, the sun has benefited my sleep health. With sunlight pouring down onto my face in the mornings, I’m more inclined to wake up early with more energy. This is because my circadian rhythms have been healed by exposure to natural light (rather than, you know, living in constant partial darkness). In my old place, the dark made me feel constantly tired, which worsened my energy levels and stifled my movement and drive.

Everything is connected. Getting enough sleep, taking care of my mental health in nature, and being inspired to get outside and into the vitamin D and greenery — all of this has a healing effect on my body. It means I move more. It means I sleep better. And it means a general reduction in my inflammation.

It's not a cure, but a piece of the puzzle

I’m not claiming that getting into the sunlight and spending time in a natural environment cures disease. I wouldn't trade biologics for the park, but I am a big believer that nature and light can improve your mental health — which can improve your energy and fatigue levels, which can give you some hope for the day ahead.

And when you’re in pain and you’re exhausted and you have brain fog, a little hope goes a long way.

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