By John Naish
The sun has got his hat on, our moods feel lighter and we are gripped by a desire to soak up some solar rays. But no, we keep being told: the threat of skin cancer makes this potentially lethal.
Now, however, scientists are discovering a positive side to sun-worshiping. Getting a good dose of sunshine is statistically going to make us live longer, healthier and happier lives.
Emerging research indicates that sunlight may protect us against a wide range of lethal or disabling conditions, such as obesity, heart attacks, strokes, asthma, and multiple sclerosis. Sunshine has also been shown to boost our libidos and general mood.
This is not simply about vitamin D — which our skin manufactures from sunlight. The vitamin helps us build healthy bones and teeth and may protect against bowel cancer. But new research indicates that solar rays benefit our bodies in multiple other ways.
Scientists now believe, for example, that exposure to sun prompts our bodies to produce nitric oxide, a chemical that helps protect our cardiovascular system — and the feelgood brain-chemical serotonin.
LACK OF SUN AS BAD AS SMOKING
A major clue about sunshine’s benefits has emerged from a study of nearly 30,000 Swedish women whose sunbathing habits have been followed for 20 years.
In March investigators, from the world-renowned Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, concluded that avoiding the sun is actually as bad for you as smoking.
The study, in the Journal of Internal Medicine, found that 1.5 women in 100 who reported they had the highest exposure to ultraviolet light (by sunbathing up to once a day) were found to have died during the two decades, compared with three in 100 for women who said they had avoided sunbathing.
The avid sunbathers had a significantly lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and other conditions that were not related to cancer, the research explains.
Dr Pelle Lindqvist, the epidemiologist who led the study, says the research also found that: ‘Non-smokers who avoided the sun had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group, indicating that avoiding the sun is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude to smoking.’
OLDER PEOPLE NEED MORE
Dr Richard Weller, senior lecturer in dermatology at Edinburgh University, last year published a report in the journal Maturitas warning that older people in particular need to get into the sun more. ‘Advice on healthy sun exposure needs to be reconsidered,’ he urges. ‘The older population are particularly sun-deprived as shown by low blood levels of vitamin D and lack of outdoor activity.’