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May 6, 2020

One Easy Way For Older Adults To Boost Brain Health and Stay “Safer At Home”

by Jennifer Bramen

The World Health Organization says we all need to boost mental health during these stressful times. Mental health has a critical effect on immune functioning. But in a world where routines are limited, and fear and uncertainty abound, how do we cope?

Luckily, there is one easy-to-follow brain health tip that can help older adults boost mental and physical wellness in one shot – more sunlight.

Sunlight improves your sleep, immune function, and inflammatory response, all critical during the CODIV-19 crisis. Aim to be in the sun without sunglasses for at least 30 minutes or more every single day.

How is it possible that sunlight can do so much for our mental health?

Sunlight passes through your eye to your hypothalamus where it signals your entire brain that it is time to be awake and alert.

Sunlight also stimulates the production of serotonin– a neurotransmitter that is famous for combatting depression and which also plays an important role in your overall physical health.

“Safer at Home” could get in the way of getting enough sunlight, but it doesn’t have to (and here’s why)

If you can’t walk outside, you can still get lots of sunlight throughout the day, here are some examples:

  • Do more of your daily activities like drinking coffee, eating, or enjoying your favorite hobby while in the sun.
  • Well-lit spaces might include a yard, balcony, porch or a seat near the window. Open your blinds and curtains to let in more light during the day. Indirect sunlight also provides a beneficial brain boost.
  • If you do not have a safe outdoor space, buy a sunlamp. Sunlamps should be at least 12 x 18 inches, an intensity of 10,000 lux and be labeled UV-free. Aim to use a sunlamp in the morning for 20-30 minutes each day.

Getting more sun should boost your mood, making your other important self-care practices like eating a healthy diet and exercising easier to achieve.  Try to make your time basking in the sun fun by playing a game, talking to a loved one over the phone or reading a good book.

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About the Author

Jennifer Bramen PhD

Jennifer Bramen

Jennifer Bramen, PhD, is a Senior Research Scientist at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute Foundation. She works alongside clinician-scientists at the Pacific Brain Health Center to bridge the gap between the translational research pipeline and full clinical implementation. Dr. Bramen is also spearheading the Pacific Neuroscience Institute Foundation’s Neuroimaging Core, which provides neuroimaging-based biomarkers for clinical trials research.

Last updated: May 6th, 2020