How Solar Power Helps Your Brain

Some evidence suggests that sun exposure may contribute to better cognitive health.

Young woman leaning on tree enjoying the warm sunlight.

Updated on July 10, 2023.

Solar power isn't just a smart technology for homes and businesses. It may be a smart move for your brain, too.

Research suggests that having adequate levels of vitamin D—also known as the sunshine vitamin—may help you think faster. So step outside and power up your brain.

D for deduction

A number of studies have shown a link betwen low levels of vitamin D and poorer mental processing, and some recent research has demonstrated a positive connection between adequate vitamin D levels and brain function. One 2022 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked at 4872 middle-aged and older adults in Australia. Researchers found a positive association between blood vitamin D levels and better cognitive performance across a range of mental tasks. 

Researchers haven't been sure how vitamin D helps the brain process information, but they think that it may help certain neuroprotective pathways. In other words, having healthy levels of vitamin D may nurture the brain's circuits and help signals move effectively between brain cells.

Sun smarts

How do you get vitamin D? There are two main ways.

The first is to expose your skin to direct sunlight. The reaction of the sun to your skin prompts your body to produce vitamin D. Of course, there are limits to how much sun you should get, as too much unprotected sunlight can cause changes in your skin that may lead to skin cancer.

Most people can produce enough vitamin D with about 10 or 15 minutes of sun exposure twice a week without sunscreen. After that, be sure to cover your skin with sun-protective clothing, or apply sunscreen to any exposed areas.

There are also a variety of foods that contain vitamin D, including fatty fish and fortified dairy products. How much vitamin D you need depends on your age and health status.

Boost your brain

In the meantime, there are other sun-free ways to rev up your cognitive skills:

Article sources open article sources

Lee DM, Tajar A, Ulubaev A, et al. Association between 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and cognitive performance in middle-aged and older European men. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2009;80(7):722-729. 
Harse JD, Zhu K, Bucks RS, Hunter M, Lim EM, Cooke BR, Walsh JP, Murray K. Investigating Potential Dose–Response Relationships between Vitamin D Status and Cognitive Performance: A Cross-Sectional Analysis in Middle- to Older-Aged Adults in the Busselton Healthy Ageing Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022; 19(1):450. 

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