Welcome to the first of 52 weekly healthy aging micro-habits.
With an estimated 43% of our behaviour fully automatic , deliberate habit shaping is the easy way to boost your wellbeing – both physically and mentally.
My weekly micro-habits are quick wins. They work together. There is no need to wait for results, you’ll feel better from day one (and fantastic after a month).
Morning Sun Exposure: The Big Health Benefits from Blue Light
This week’s healthy aging micro habit is a quick burst of morning sunlight. It will improve your sleep, lift your mood, and get the day off to the best possible start.
As you’ll see below, there are major researched-backed benefits from going outside for just a few minutes early in the day.
How Does Morning Sunlight Benefit Healthy Aging?
Sleep is a bedrock habit for your health.
Typically, late-evening behaviour is linked to sleep quality. You can also improve sleep from the start of the day. Best of all, this is backed by science.
The key is getting short wavelength (blue) light on your retina. Don’t stare at the sun, just go outside for 2-10 minutes each morning, as early as is comfortable. Depending on your climate, sunscreen or covering-up is recommended. Never stare at the sun, and keep in mind that sunlight through a window or glasses is only 2% as effective.
Blue (UV) light triggers three pathways:
- Inhibits Melatonin
- Boosts Cortisol
- Boosts Serotonin
Melatonin is the master neurotransmitter for your circadian rhythm. Studies demonstrate  that shutting down production early triggers earlier and more reliable increases in the evening – and better-quality sleep.
Cortisol naturally spikes when you wake up. You might have heard about this in the context of stress. It has a wider role, triggering alertness and wakefulness. The ‘Cortisol Awakening Response’  is a key step in preparing us for tasks of the day.
Serotonin production is triggered by morning sunlight exposure . This lifts your mood, getting you off to the best possible start for the day.
How to Start Your Morning Sunlight Exposure Habit?
I recommend working with your existing morning routine, finding a simple way to get outside each morning.
Working with an existing habit is known as ‘stacking’. It borrows a trigger for an already established habit, adding the new behaviour on top. Once you feel the benefits and lock down morning sun exposure as a regular habit – you can get more creative and make being outside something to look forward to.
Here are some suggestions:
- Enjoy your regular morning cup of tea in the garden or on the balcony.
- Park further away from your office and take a slow walk there.
- Walk one bus stop further away than usual.
- A brisk morning walk combined with your morning meditation / gratitude work.
- If all else fails, you can simply open your window and enjoy the fresh air for a few minutes before your morning shower.
It won’t always be possible to get sunlight in the morning. My personal rule of thumb is to avoid skipping this new habit twice in a row. One minute is better than zero – though (depending on cloud cover) 10 minutes is ideal.
Combining sunlight with movement is a great way to start your day. And starting the day positively will help with all the other healthy aging habits (and in avoiding temptations).
Huberman: Morning Sunlight is a Top 5 Health Boosting Behaviour
This quote from Sandford’s Dr Huberman underscores the importance of sunlight exposure:
I consider viewing morning sunlight in the top five of all actions that support mental health, physical health and performance.
Linked Healthy Aging Habits: Getting Sleep Right
Quality sleep will boost your mood, make exercising and avoiding harmful foods easier – and will help boost your brain health too.
Morning sun exposure is only one aspect of sleep quality. Others include:
- A cool, dark, quiet sleep environment.
- Avoiding blue light later in the evening (use blue blocking glasses or avoid screens).
- Avoiding caffeine late in the day, and alcohol too.
- Keeping a regular schedule of sleep and wake times, even at weekends.
- No food or exercise a few hours before bed.
- Write down any urgent tasks before bed, or journal on your stressors.
For more on how building longevity habits around sleep will boost your health, check out the articles below:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia
- Metformin and Longevity (Deep-Dive)
- Detailed Review of Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
I’ll be back next week with the second healthy aging micro-habit – this time focusing on movement.
Clinical References: Habits Overview by the American Psychological Association  Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. M. Nathaniel Mead (2008).  Daily Life Stress and the Cortisol Awakening Response: Testing the Anticipation Hypothesis. Daniel J. Powell 1 and Wolff Schlotz (2012).  Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. G W Lambert 1, C Reid, D M Kaye, G L Jennings, M D Esler (2002)