Get Out There

Natural Light Aids Blood Sugar

We’re always recommending that you get outside for your mental and physical health. Being outdoors impacts you in so many ways it’s impossible to overhype the benefits of time spent in nature! But, one reason we don’t talk about is blood sugar health.

Researchers say that spending more time outside can aid blood sugar levels. They believe that coupling being outdoors with a healthy lifestyle could be a one-two punch for blood sugar. Eating a salad in the yard or running outside could help more than the veggies or exercise alone.

Metabolism and insulin resistance are both linked to a body’s internal clock. Daylight can, essentially, keep that clock ticking at the right speed.

The misalignment of our internal circadian clock with the demands of a 24/7 society is associated with an increased incidence of metabolic diseases, including [blood sugar concerns],” said Ivo Habets, co-leader of the study and a PhD researcher at Maastricht Univ. “Natural daylight is the strongest [environmental cue] of the circadian clock, but most people are indoors during the day and so under constant artificial lighting.”

The study exposed 13 people with blood sugar concerns to controlled amounts of light for four days. They all ate the same diet and did the same activities. For the first four days, they were outside from 8 AM to 5 PM. The amount of light fluctuated naturally throughout the day. Then, the researchers waited a month and had the same group return and stay inside for four days. They were exposed to 300 lux during the day, five lux at night and darkness to sleep.  

When the group was exposed to natural light, they had fewer blood sugar spikes, had fasting glucose levels in the normal range and processed carbs better.

If you spend your day indoors, you don’t get enough daylight. Your sleep probably suffers. Sleep plays a massive role in blood sugar regulation. “When you are lacking in sleep, your cortisol levels go up,” said Erin Davis, registered dietitian. “Cortisol can elevate glucose levels, worsen insulin resistance and increase the hunger hormone ghrelin — making it difficult to stay within your glucose targets. Optimizing your sleep plays a crucial role in effectively managing your glucose levels. Instead of staying up late, fueled by the light of your device’s screen, aim for a bedtime that mimics the available daylight.”

A lack of vitamin D can also make the body less sensitive to insulin. Going outside and getting vitamin D from sunlight can increase insulin sensitivity and improve how the body regulates glucose.

People in the study were all around the age of 70. There were only 13 participants, which means it’s hard to draw broad conclusions. Moreover, it’s hard to tell how natural light impacts people outside a controlled setting. The people in the study stayed inside 24 hours a day.

Mr. Habets said people should try to spend as much time outdoors as possible but added, “Further research is still needed to determine the extent to which artificial light affects metabolism and the amount of time that needs be spent in natural light or outdoors to compensate for this.”

On Nov. 5, we will “lose” an hour of daylight. The clocks will fall back. We’ll wake up in daylight and see the evening get dark sooner. It’s always common for people to feel a little down as days get “darker.” By spending more time outside and enjoying daylight more, you can fend off any minor changes in your mood that might occur and aid your blood sugar!  

Banner image: Alyssa Teboda via Unsplash

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