Book review: Chasing the sun | Pocket Sky

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Book review: Chasing the sun

Book review: Chasing the sun

The author Linda Geddes wrote a book on “The new science of sunlight and how it shapes our bodies and minds”. We took a look and found inspiration for a few thoughts of our own.

It appears that we know all about sunlight and its importance to humans and our health. But do we? Did you know that sunlight has an influence on your immune system? That disruption of the circadian rhythm, which is controlled by sunlight, is associated with negative effects from bad mood to cardiovascular disease? Linda Geddes’ book is as interesting as it is inspiring.

The star that gave us life

One of the more dramatic ways to put it, admittedly. But take it as an important reminder of what the sun is to us. Dramatic truths must be told in dramatic words. In times of artificial lighting, even light pollution, indoor work, glowing screens and the fear of sunburn, it is easy to forget how truly elementary the sun is to us as living beings. The book “Chasing the sun” shows in a dramatic way that the sunlight isn’t just healthy and nice to have but reminds us how many parts of our life are dependent on it.

The new science of sunlight

Humans have of course always been fascinated by the sun. Since the sun is the primary reason for life on our planet, the sun was godly to humans from the very beginning. Also, it has long been identified as a factor of health: The Babylonian king Hammurabi, mostly known for his code of law, advised his priests to use sunlight when treating illnesses 4,000 years ago. Doctors in ancient Greece thought that sunlight was important for the restoration of health and in the 19th century we can read recommendations about nudity being more healthy than wearing clothes so the skin could get sunlight and breathe. So you may ask yourself, what is new?

Said in one word: The magnitude. Yes, we know sunlight is important and healthy. But most of us don’t truly consider its importance when we encounter health problems, be it physiologically or mentally.

The real importance of sunlight

At the moment we are experiencing a kind of food-hype: People are going nuts over super-foods, proteins vs. carbohydrates, organic food and so on. Many people blame food if they feel tired or sick or praise it for its positive effects. Have you ever witnessed someone complaining about fatigue and another person replying: “Do you eat wheat?” The author of this blog has. That may all be good and true but could it be that we are dramatically underestimating the importance of sunlight?
Linda Geddes makes that point rather strongly. She emphasizes that the circadian clock influences pretty much every single biological process in our body. Meaning blood pressure, muscle strength, cortisol levels, body temperature, the activity of immune cells and, wait for it, our body’s response to food! So what’s more important now?
When our circadian rhythm is disrupted, so is our biological system as a whole. That means that chemicals regulating our mood are out of balance and we may be irritable. But also worse outcomes are associated with being out of balance with our body clock: Depression, dementia and even cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Own experiences

Linda Geddes doesn’t only write about the new science of sunlight but also about her own experiences which are actually quite astonishing: Inspired by Amish communities who don’t use electrical light, she started spending a lot of time outdoors, where there is much more light, even on a cloudy day and during winter. The results, in short, were that her mood changed and her sleep efficiency rose. But there was more to it than just that. Being out in the open brought forth the dramatic beauty of nature in places and at times of the day unknown to the woman who was out to chase the sun.

Chasing the Sun: The New Science of Sunlight and How it Shapes Our Bodies and Minds by Linda Geddes is published by Wellcome Collection.