Finally the cold weather seems to be coming to an end and the prospect of a few days of sunshine and increasingly warm temperatures are lifting our mood and encouraging more of us to spend time outdoors. But we are constantly being told that it can be dangerous to expose our bodies to the threat of skin cancer.
However, scientists are now discovering a positive side to sun-worshipping. Research has found that sunshine can actually help us lose weight and live longer. A study by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm looked at over 29,000 Swedish women aged between 25 and 64 years old. Their sunbathing habits were recorded over a period of 20 years. Even taking the skin cancer risk fully into account, the researchers found that getting a good dose of sunshine led to healthier, happier and longer lives.
The research indicates that sunlight may protect us from a wide range of conditions such as obesity, heart attacks, stroke, multiple sclerosis and asthma. Sunshine also boosts our mood and libido.
The benefits of vitamin D from sunlight have been well documented and you can read some of our articles on the subject by typing the words into our Search Box on the home page. But the scientists found that these additional benefits were not simply about vitamin D. They now believe that exposure to the sun prompts our bodies to produce nitric oxide which helps protect our cardiovascular system and serotonin which helps boost our mood.
The research was published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in March and concluded that, not only were women with “active sun exposure habits” at a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but that avoiding the sun can be as bad as smoking.
The study said: “Non-smokers who avoided sun exposure had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group, indicating that avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking.”
In another study published last year, Dr Richard Weller from Edinburgh University warned that older people in particular need to get out into the sun more. His team established that exposure to sunlight may lower people’s blood pressure and thus cut their risk of heart attack and stroke. This benefit has nothing to do with vitamin D.
Dr Weller went on to say: “There is a correlation between more sun and less disease in a variety of conditions such as multiple sclerosis and atherosclerosis.”
If you would like to find out more, listen to Dr Chris talking about the benefits of sunshine on the video below.
How can sunshine help with obesity?
Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Southampton found that sunlight may suppress the development of obesity and the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Mice, which were on high fat diets, were exposed to ultra violet light. The results showed that the ultraviolet radiation boosted the production of nitric oxide. The suggestion is that without enough nitric acid in the bloodstream, insulin may not work properly, allowing diabetes to set in.
What other benefits of sunshine have been found?
Other research indicates that being exposed to sunlight may reduce our risk of stroke. In an analysis of more than 16,000 people in the US, researchers at the University of Alabama found that the more sunshine someone experienced, the lower their risk of stroke.
Research from Uppsala University in Sweden showed that sunlight stimulates sensors in the retina which regulate our body clock. This in turn regulates the amount of melatonin that our bodies release. A disruption in the level of this sleep hormone is linked to depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Sunlight also helps lift men’s libido by raising the level of the male sex hormone, testosterone.
Finally it would seem that a balanced approach to sun exposure is needed. Experts advise that no more than 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to full sun in the middle of the day is safe.