How sun, warmer weather can trigger physical, mental feel-good responses

Major benefits of mindfulness that’s easier than meditation

COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more plentiful, the weather is warming up and spring flowers are beginning to pop. A Northern Virginia psychiatrist believes it’s all enough to put more pep in your step.

“I look forward to this time of year, and I encourage everyone to get outside – go for a walk,” said Dr. Humaira Siddiqi, an interventional psychiatrist who practices at the Kaiser Permanente medical centers in Virginia.

Dr. Humaira Siddiqi
Dr. Humaira Siddiqi poses for a picture after receiving the coronavirus vaccine.
(Courtesy Humaira Siddiqi)

“Change is finally moving in the right direction. You have vaccine set for mass distribution, and you couple this with a positive transformation in the weather, you can now finally take advantage of opportunities to engage in physical activity or what I call ‘therapeutic movement and connection,’” she said.

Siddiqi recommends greeting warmer weather by opening your windows for a bit to refresh your living space by ventilating stagnant air that’s been circulating during winter months.

As for getting outside, you might not believe how much your body gets from the sun.

“Our biology has evolved to absorb the energy of the sun in so many nourishing ways. Emotionally nourishing ways, but physically nourishing. Our skin can convert radiant energy into signals that boost your immune system. You feel healthier,” Siddiqi said.

The sun stimulates a body’s vitamin D production.

“Vitamin D is a depression-busting vitamin because it enhances your mood and mental focus,” she said.

There also are favorable outcomes when your eyes absorb sunlight.

“It converts that light, sends signals into the brain – tells it to activate, tells it to feel good; and those feel-good chemicals make you feel good inside. You feel more social. You have a sense of well-being,” Siddiqi said. “You start to feel more grateful for things around you; you become naturally optimistic.”

Noting the change of season, Siddiqi said now is a good time to reengage with healthy habits as though you were coming out of hibernation. Socialize safely wearing a mask and keeping appropriate distance; nourish your body with fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Make sure you’re breathing. You know that fresh air that’s coming in, if you’re ventilating your house, if you’re getting outside. Take a moment to have nice, deep breaths. appreciate that air,” Siddiqi said.

And, remember to get hugs from the people around you every day to promote oxytocin levels in your body.

Oxytocin is one of the “love chemicals” that release when people hug each other, when you hold your children, hold hands or are physically intimate.

“But you can do that for yourself, as well. When you caress yourself, run your fingers through your hair; when you feel the wind on your skin – that stimulates the sensation that can release oxytocin,” Siddiqi said. “And it makes you feel loved; it makes you feel cared for.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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