Let the sun shine

I’m smiling at the news that the health benefits of sunshine may outweigh the risk of getting skin cancer from its rays.

Just in time for summer, new research has shown that exposing our skin to sunshine can lower blood pressure, cut our risk of heart attack and stroke, and perhaps help us live longer. High blood pressure is such a common condition (68 million Americans have it) that it leads to 80 times more deaths than skin cancer does. Now it turns out that when our skin gets sun exposure, a compound is released in the blood that actually lowers blood pressure. This effect is separate from the previously known benefits of Vitamin D from the sun.

Today we use the term “sun worship” to describe people who like to sit out in the sun and tan. But ritual worship of sun gods and goddesses goes back for millennia. People have long known and appreciated the life-giving force of the sun. It is the source of all energy and life on earth, through the process of photosynthesis and from the warmth it provides our planet. Sunrise and sunset are magical times of the day, when colors blaze across the sky. In yoga, we do sun salutations to open our practice by welcoming the sun.IMG_2347

So today I salute the sun for these life-giving blessings:

  • Sunlight helps improve mood, and lessens the effects of seasonal depression. As Wilma Rudolph said, “When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome.
  • The sun provides Vitamin D, which helps us absorb calcium (keeping bones strong), and may protect against certain types of cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions.
  • The sun powers our hot water heaters, homes, watches, and maybe someday, our cars.
  • The sun gives order to our days, orienting us to time and space.
  • Sunny days get us outdoors, so we get more exercise.
  • The sun stimulates the production of melatonin, which helps us get a good night’s sleep.
  • The sun gives us rainbows.
  • The sun ripens and sweetens the fruit we eat. In the words of Galileo, “The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”IMG_03521

And isn’t true that when the sun is shining, we feel as if it shines just for us? We bend toward the sun like flowers do, waiting to be opened up, growing just a little bit taller in its light.

Running with friends

Yesterday I ran a 10k race, the longest I’ve run since my last 10k in November. I would not have done it without my running partner, Naomi.  I would say we keep each other motivated, but it’s more like we keep each other from being slackers. Neither of us loves running enough to do it consistently on our own. But knowing that we’re each depending on the other keeps us going.

Years of studies consistently show that social support is a significant factor in keeping people exercising, especially women. One recent study indicates that it is the esteem social support that is most significant – the positive feedback, encouragement and compliments we receive from others. On the other hand, companionship social support – having another person exercise with you – can actually keep people from exercising more strenuously.

I guess in some ways, that’s what’s happening with my friend and me. We keep each other running, but we don’t often push each other to work harder. We talk a lot while we run; a favorite question when the running gets difficult for one of us is, “Do you have a good story?” We don’t work together or live near each other, so hearing about each other’s lives is a great diversion. This doesn’t lend itself to doing speed work, but it has made us better friends over the years.

I could, and sometimes do, run with my husband. He’s good about keeping us on pace and running longer distances. But he sets a high standard for himself and that can sometimes carry over to me. Running with my friend, by comparison, is pretty much judgment-free. If one of us wants to walk, we walk. If one of us wants to run 3 miles instead of 4, that’s what we do. And if one of us suggests a 10k, the other one usually agrees.

The question, I guess, is what’s enough? While I know that challenging myself physically can prepare me for other challenges in life, I’m not the kind of person who needs to run a marathon to accomplish that. I have plenty of other opportunities in my life to prove myself, and to get that runner’s “high” feeling. Running is just one of the ways that I stay healthy. So even though it was a bit disheartening to see the fastest runners returning toward us when we were still two miles from the finish, I don’t feel too bad about our 10-1/2 minute miles yesterday. We ran 6.2 miles for the first time this year, and we felt pretty good at the end of it.

Olympian Wilma Rudolph, once the fastest woman in the world, said that she “… loved the feeling of freedom in running, the fresh air, the feeling that the only person I’m competing with is me.” My wish for every run is to find that kind of freedom and to feel the lightness that can come from running unencumbered in the fresh air. I may not be setting records, but I’m still running, and I’m glad I’m not alone.