Guest article by Sam Hadadi,
From wrinkled skin to increasing our risk of certain cancers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that stepping out in the blazing sun was the root of all evil.
Yet despite the fact that we’ve been told for years to avoid sunbathing like the plague, new research released this week has revealed that a daily dose of sunshine might not be all that bad for us.
In fact, sun worshippers can rejoice – and they may even live a longer, fuller life.
In a brand new study, scientists analysed 29,518 Swedish women over the course of 20 years. While active sunbathers did increase their risk of developing skin cancer (meaning plenty of caution needs to be exercised), their life expectancy was, weirdly, much better.
You see, these sun lovers had a much lower risk of dying from heart disease and non-cancer deaths than those who stuck to the shade.
What does this mean for you? Well, quite simply, rules banishing us to the shade could actually be doing us more harm than good!
As Dr. Pelle Lindqvist, lead author of the Journal of Internal Medicine study, said: "We found smokers in the highest sun exposure group were at a similar risk as non-smokers avoiding sun exposure, indicating avoidance of sun exposure to be a risk factor of the same magnitude as smoking.
"Guidelines being too restrictive regarding sun exposure may do more harm than good for health."
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the scientists have admitted that they’ve not got the foggiest when it comes to knowing why this is. You see, for years and years, we’ve been so sure that spending too long in the sun is bad for us, so it goes without saying that the researchers were a little stumped to discover than sunbathing women lived longer than other females.
Yet while no definite answer can be drawn (more research is needed to discover the underlying reason), it seems likely that all this goodness is caused by that wonderful vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight on the skin.
While we can’t be sure why people exposed to sunshine live longer, the scientists suspect it’s all down to that clever vitamin D.
And, if you ask us, this underrated vitamin is one of the shining superstars in the health food world. So few people understand the importance of getting enough vitamin D, while many – around one billion globally - are actually deficient in it. However, it can truly help our body to glow!
As you’ve probably gathered, our main source of vitamin D comes from the lovely sun, which is why it’s known as the “sunshine vitamin”. It’s made when the sunlight hits the skin (or, more specifically, when we’re exposed to UVB rays), and just 10 minutes of sunshine a day can help us to top up our levels!
However, D-ficiency (sorry!) can lead to many health problems, so it’s worth keeping topped up. To benefit, you don't need to be flexing that credit card and escaping to the Caribbean, as you can easily top up by spending time outside here, at home. Alternatively, you can also try upping your dosage with a supplement, or even by adding foods that naturally contain the vitamin, including oily fish and egg yolks.
Why do you need to keep yourself topped up? Well, it’s simple really! Here’s all that this wonderful vitamin can do for you:
Build Strong Bones
Vitamin D can help to deposit calcium in our bones, making them stronger and healthier than ever before. This is great news for those at risk of osteoporosis.
Protect Against Heart Disease
Impressively, vitamin D also has a protective effect on the heart and a lack of it can be known to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, sudden cardiac death, or heart failure. Why? Well, scientists aren’t completely sure on the reason for this but expect that it’s all to do with improving elasticity in the arteries, lowering cholesterol and improving glycemic control.
Too little vitamin D could also damage our overall health, affect our ability to fight off infection and even damage our muscle function and lead to circulatory or respiratory problems. Heck, it can even raise your risk of depression.
Want to know more? You can read our blog on vitamin D by clicking here.
Of course, if you want to soak up that sun and enjoy that vitamin D in all its glory, then you still need to protect yourself from its glare – our risk of developing skin cancer goes through the roof when it comes to poor sun protection.
To ensure that you look after your body, yet still enjoy the sun’s health benefits, then here’s a few simple steps to take:
Keep out of the sun when it’s at its hottest – think between 11am and 3pm. Stick to the shade during these hours or, better yet, head indoors.
Just 10 minutes of sunshine on the skin can boost our vitamin D levels, so go easy on those rays! After this, make sure you wear a high SPF – at least 25 or above – to block out any harmful rays.
Certain nutrients, such as lycopene (a pigment found in red fruit and veg, such as tomatoes) can boost our skin’s ability to ward off UV damage. People who eat plenty of alpha and beta-carotenoids (found in orange and yellow foods) can also enjoy more protection from skin damage after sun exposure.
We all have leftover bottles of sunscreen lurking at the back of bathroom cabinets but did you know that they go off? In fact, it’s essential to buy fresh bottles every single summer because the active ingredients in sunscreen lose their potency over time.
All too often, sunscreen alone isn’t enough, so make sure you really double up. Wear a big, straw hat (it makes you look like a movie star, anyway!) and sunglasses, as well as protective clothing.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.