Sunshine on My Shoulders
The town-wide need for nature and fresh air has been palpable, and there are physiological reasons for those cravings.
As the song goes, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy…Sunshine almost always makes me high.” I don’t think John Denver was exaggerating with the latter claim. I’ve certainly witnessed delirium on that first happy warm day of the year, which a few years ago coincided with Little League Opening Day. After the smiley, happy parade, kids swarmed their neighborhoods on bikes and scooters, while teens hung out of car windows, music blasting. As I commented at the time, the whole town seemed high with delight after being “locked up” over winter. Well, we’ll never again use that phrase lightly, and this summer, after a spring of being locked down, the high will be even higher.
Even before the pandemic put life on hold, one Sunday in March the parking lot at Rye Town Park was full. We’ve been lucky the parks stayed open and there have been plenty of busy days since, despite the cold and rainy spring weather. Sure, people have had more time on their hands, but the town-wide need for nature and fresh air has been palpable, and there are physiological reasons for those cravings.
No one who has closed their eyes and lifted their face to the sun to feel its warmth can deny the instant mood boost it brings. That’s because sunshine prompts the release of feel-good hormones, mainly serotonin. It’s no surprise that in such difficult, uncertain and often quite frightening times, some innate signal within us sent us in search of that boost. It is also wiser than ever to load up on the natural immune boosters all around us if we manage our diet, environment, and exercise regimen well. The higher your levels of vitamin D, the more robust your immune system will be, and sunlight is by far the best source.
I intended to avoid addressing Covid-19, because I’m not nearly qualified enough to do so and there are plenty of armchair experts right now. However, wanting to check my facts I stumbled across a study by Trinity College Dublin. It found that the highest infection and death rates from the virus were recorded among those populations with low vitamin D concentrations.
Sleepless nights during lockdown anyone? Bizarre and stressful dreams? Make sure you get outside every day, preferably before noon. Your circadian rhythm, the biological clock that runs in the background of your brain, helps regulate your appetite and sleep habits. Our modern life with artificial light, TVs, and blue light from our phones even as we’re going to sleep, confuses our primeval urges to sleep and wake with the sun. Help keep the internal clock ticking smoothly by giving your body signals as to what time of day it is and what season is with natural outdoor light. The health benefits of a good night’s sleep, in turn, are immeasurable.
The pilgrimages to the park were clearly not just for sunshine and daylight, which we could get just by stepping outside our front door. When Frederick Law Olmstead designed Central Park, he distributed flyers to doctors’ offices in poor neighborhoods which contained the following message: “Please tell your patients to go to Central Park, it will help them feel better.”
It’s apparent that visits to Rye Town Park have made us all feel better during this crisis. And we are lucky to live by the sea, where the highest concentrations of negative ions in the air occur. They increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, give us that good old serotonin surge, and for the one in three of us who are particularly sensitive to their effects, make us feel like we’re walking on air.
- Lee Sandford