Sunlight is not a cure for coronavirus, but it does have other benefits for mind and body.
Deciding whether to head outdoors or to stay at home has never before felt so fraught, as many of us continue the weigh the benefits of getting some fresh air versus the risks of getting sick. For many, however, the enticements of a spring day are too powerful to resist.
“Yesterday it was raining and we felt kind of sorry for ourselves, but it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself on a sunny day like today,” said Nancy Penman, a resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Ms. Penman was one of many who were maintaining a safe distance between themselves and others while they walked in Riverside Park on a recent afternoon. “I hope they don’t close the parks,” she said. “We need our sun. I’ve heard it boosts the immune system.”
Ms. Penman may have a point. “There is now limited but convincing evidence that moderate sunlight exposure is capable of modulating the immune system and improving health,” said Daniel González Maglio, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and researcher in the growing field of photo-immunology.
A daily dose of sunlight won’t fend off or cure coronavirus, though researchers continue to explore the effects that warmer weather and ultraviolet rays might have on the virus. But scientists are finding that exposure to the sun has numerous other benefits that may be especially important now — including helping to elevate mood, to improve the quality of our sleep and to strengthen the body’s innate defenses against a variety of pathogens.
The impact of sunlight on human health would not have been news for our ancestors, said the British researcher Richard Hobday, author of “The Healing Sun: Sunlight and Health in the 21st Century.”
“Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said that if you have a city that is properly oriented toward the sun you don’t have so many diseases in it,” Dr. Hobday noted. “Throughout history and all over the world, sunlight has been worshiped for its health-giving properties and used as a medicine.”