Are sunshine and fresh air really good for you? History says, yes.

As we learn more and more every day about the COVID-19, or coronavirus, it's worth taking a look back to see if we can learn anything from past pandemics and outbreaks of disease.

One such pandemic happened in 1918, an H1N1 virus with avian origins, swept through the world and is the deadliest pandemic in recent history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 50 and 100 million people died worldwide in that pandemic, with approximately 675,000 deaths in the United States. This pandemic had a high mortality rate in healthy young people, which was an unusual feature, not seen in other outbreaks. Mortality was very high in young children 5 years old and under, as well as in those aged 20-40 years old and 65 years and older.

There was no vaccine at that time against the flu, and no antibiotics to treat the secondary and long-term infections that followed. There were limited control efforts used and limited pharmaceutical options. The main methods of control used were quarantine and isolation, improved personal hygiene, disinfectant, and limited public gatherings.

One method of treatment, which does not get a lot of credit or coverage, might offer some new insight as we work towards addressing the new COVID-19 pandemic. Believe it or not, what we are talking about is sunshine.

Open-Air Therapy

One rarely discussed approach used to treat influenza in 1918 was open-air therapy. Patients were treated in emergency hospitals all over the country, and one such hospital was set up in Boston, which was hit hard by the virus. The worst-hit sailors were sent there, where they were set up in tents. The lead medical officer had learned that some of the very sickest sailors had been resting in poorly ventilated spaces and wanted to give them more air.

The sailors were also left to sit outside in the sun during warmer days, common among the medical treatment of sick soldiers at the time. Open-air therapy was also used to treat tuberculosis and had been used in England and Germany, among other places, for many years before the pandemic of 1918. There was a definite connection to patients getting sunlight and ventilation that improved their conditions. The Boston hospital showed that a combination of fresh air, sunlight, and very intense hygiene standards could treat the virus. They were ahead of the research, but had discovered a connection to the sun and fresh air that helped patients get stronger.

Why It Works

Open-air therapy may work for a couple of reasons, and while much of this might not have been known at the time of the 1918 flu pandemic, it was, in fact, an effective treatment. Since then, sunlight has been proven to be a natural disinfectant, using something called the Open-Air Factor, which is harmful to airborne bacteria, more so than the air inside. Exposure to sunlight can activate the influenza virus and kill bacteria. Sunlight triggers the production of Vitamin D, which has many uses in the immune system and development of the body. In fact, insufficient Vitamin D can lead to deformities and growth retardation, as well as weakened bones and a poor immune system.

There have also been studies done that show certain bacteria can grow in dark rooms, about 12 percent, and that only 6.8 percent can grow in sunlit rooms and 6.1 percent it brightly UV lit rooms.  

Sunlight has some very beneficial health properties to humans, and it's something we have known about for a long time. One of the reasons it may not be used by a large number of people or talked about often is that antibiotic therapy began to grow and became the more common way to treat illnesses, like the flu and other bacteria and infections.

The common belief that moving to a warm climate may help medical issues, that getting fresh air will help fight a cold, that the sun can give energy to our immune systems, these are all real-life benefits sunlight and fresh air have for us. Not only does being out basking in some glorious rays make our psyche feel better, it literally triggers our bodies to work on healing themselves, which is pretty dang amazing, if you ask us.

Sun, Anyone?

So, while we don’t have enough proof to say sitting in the sun and taking in that fresh air will totally prevent or heal anyone from this new COVID-19 pandemic, it certainly is good to know that sunshine is healthy for us! No one needs to get burned or turn lobster-red, but a healthy helping of sunshine and fresh air will do a body good.

With long days spent at home, and social distancing becoming the new "normal," it sounds like a perfect time to take that afternoon walk, sit outside for a cup of coffee, or curl up with a book in a cheery spot and soak up some Vitamin D.

Did you know all this good stuff could happen just from sitting outside? Can you share any other health benefits of spending time outside with us? Give us the scoop in the comments, and don’t forget the sunscreen the next time you need a little open-air and sunshine therapy!