Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Morning Sunlight Diet—Free and Easy

Maine Sunrise
Sleep was elusive as a severe thunderstorm chose midnight to crash, boom, and pelt the windows with hail. About the time exhaustion won the tug-of-war, a ka-boom rattled the windows and the sky lit with the violent flash of nearby lightning.

Not to be outdone, my new phone shrieked an alarm. I’m still learning about the bells and whistles, but a siren in the middle of a storm didn’t seem like a good thing. It was a flash flood warning. I think I’d just been warned by the deluge on the heels of the hail.

I finally fell into a uneasy sleep with equally disturbed dreams. I woke up to distant rumbling thunder, gray skies, and an alarm clock flashing 5:25 a.m. My phone said it was seven o’clock, so I took a look at Google news. National news covered the shooting at Fort Hood; state news concentrated on the weather.

Health News was the real eye-opener of the morning.  Okay, I already knew that sleep helped with weight loss. Of course, after the night I’d just experienced, that was down the tubes for today. This study by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine concentrated on sunlight without regard to sleep, caloric intake, or exercise. The sun affects our circadian rhythm and synchronizes our internal clock.

Maybe I’m a little on the ignorant side, but I had never heard of circadian rhythm. According to the article, “Circadian rhythm is the body’s physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle.” How could I have not known this term when apparently circadian rhythm is what makes us tick?  

The super good news brought to light by this study was that body mass index (BMI) can be greatly reduced with twenty to thirty minutes exposure to morning sunlight. In fact, exposure to light can account for 20 percent of BMI! Think of all the pills, strict diets, powdery drinks, nasty tasting chocolate bars, and invasive surgery that people undergo to lose weight and, more importantly, bring their BMI to a healthy level. Think of Americans saving $60 billion spent on weight loss programs each year!

Many of us suspected that our lifestyle contributed to an alarming increase in obesity. We spend the majority of our lives indoors, whether at home or work. Some of us (this is where I raise my hand) are night owls. We stay up late regardless of the time we have to get up in the mornings. I spent most of my working years with too little sleep and almost zero exposure to sunlight. That’s a health double whammy. And when you work, thanks partially to daylight savings time, your exposure is to afternoon light, which does not have the same benefit as morning sunlight.

Maybe I’m being a little optimistic, but since morning light affects mood and behavior, as well as BMI, couldn’t morning light therapy be helpful for people with Alzheimer’s? We know sun-downing is brought on by waning light and that a well-lit room can help behavior. Maybe an early morning walk, or even quiet time outdoors would provide an uplifting start to the day.  

Without sunlight between 8:00 a.m. and noon, our internal clock is altered and becomes as worthless as my flashing alarm clock was this morning. Our body’s timepiece becomes “uncoordinated” which leads to altered metabolism and weight gain.

 After reading the article, I was hyped about soaking up the rays to shrink my waistline while energy transferred from that brilliant celestial orb to my earthbound, over-weight body. This fantastic health advice comes on a day when all a person could be exposed to this morning is doom and gloom, rain, low hanging clouds, with a possibility of hail and high winds. Not a single ray of sunlight can be found.

I’m hoping for a bright sunshiny day tomorrow so I can put my new knowledge into action. I can’t think of a better diet than pulling up a lawn chair, sipping a cup of coffee, and relaxing in the morning sun. It beats the heck out of the treadmill or exercise bike.  

copyright © April 2014 by L. S. Fisher

sources: Northwestern University press release: “Morning rays keep off pounds.” Research funded by National Institutes of Health. “The Heavy Price of  Losing Weight.”

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