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Don’t let ‘cloudy Ohio’ keep you feeling sad

As I write this, rays of bright sunshine are screaming through the window in my newsroom office and bouncing off my computer screen, nearly blinding me. It’s days like this that I realize I really shouldn’t have left my sunglasses in the car.

The irony, however, is that the topic of this week’s column is about a recent report on the cloudiness of our region.

According to a news release I recently received from an outdoor powersports company, Polaris partnered with The Weather Channel television network on a promotional idea that had to do with luring people outside.

Good idea, I admit — but on a day like today, it probably wouldn’t take much prodding — particularly in typically cloudy northeast Ohio.

According to the study, The Weather Channel — identified in the news release as “the authority on weather data collection and reporting” — Youngstown is listed among the 10 cloudiest cities in the country.

Shocking, I know!

Others making the gray list include Pittsburgh; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Washington, D.C.; and Chicago. Don’t look now, but it sure seems like we are surrounded by cloudiness.

According to the study, clouds also frequently hover over Detroit; Syracuse, N.Y.; Seattle; Louisville, Ky.; and Newark, N.J.

That’s the bad news.

Now, here’s the good news. Studies indicate it takes only 10 minutes outside to boost your mood.

And sunlight especially boosts your mood.

Researchers have found more mental health distress in people during seasons with little sun exposure. Days with plenty of sunshine are generally associated with better mental health.

Hooray for the sunshine!

Earlier this year, during my annual medical check up over the winter months, my physician was rattling off a series of routine questions. Among them, she asked if I ever feel depressed.

Really?

“Of course I feel depressed. It’s January in northeast Ohio,” I responded. I wonder what other answer she expected.

The doc chuckled, then went on to tell me about the benefits of using “SAD” lamps in the winter months and when the weather is, well, cloudy. No, it’s not called a “sad” lamp for obvious reasons. Rather, these special lights help stave off SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, which can include forms of depression and anxiety. She told me that when we are stuck in cloudy conditions, like we often are here in Ohio, light therapy lamps can be a good investment to provide a temporary alternative to the sun and help lift our spirits.

That’s because SAD lamps produce light that mimics sunshine and helps your body produce the hormone serotonin, which has been associated with boosting mood and helping you feel calm and focused.

And in our little cloudy corner of the world, most of us know all about craving sunshine.

Yes, there are negative effects of sunshine and its ultraviolet rays, but we shouldn’t forget about the important benefits of sunshine too, including those that go beyond our mental health.

Medical experts point out some tangible benefits of sunshine like these:

l Vitamin D: The sun is the best natural source of Vitamin D, and it takes less than 15 minutes of sunlight a few times a week to notice a difference. Vitamin D, of course, helps strengthen bones and teeth. Low Vitamin D has been linked to diseases like osteoporosis and rickets.

l Having trouble sleeping? Serotonin from the sun’s rays helps you get more restful sleep at night. Working in tandem with serotonin is melatonin, a chemical in your brain that lulls you into slumber and one that sun also helps your body produce.

l Blood pressure: Sunlight also triggers the release of nitric oxide into your blood, which can help lower blood pressure and improves heart health.

Of course, sunscreen with a high SPF level is a must if you’re going to be outside for any length of time. But when you get the chance here in cloudy Ohio, I urge you not to miss the opportunity to soak up the sun.

I guess it’s time for me to stop squinting at my computer screen and go enjoy the sunshine while I have the chance!

blinert@tribtoday.com

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