Just in time for spring and summer fun in the sun, the results of a large and long-term study on the hazards of avoiding the sun were published last week in the Journal of Internal Medicine.
Usually all we hear about are the bad things about too much sun exposure—skin cancer, melanoma, wrinkles, sunburns, etc.
But this study out of Sweden, which followed 30,000 women for 20 years, found:
Nonsmokers who stayed out of the sun had a life expectancy similar to smokers who soaked up the most rays, according to researchers who studied nearly 30,000 Swedish women over 20 years.
This indicates that avoiding the sun “is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking,” write the authors of the article.
“We know in our population, there are three big lifestyle factors [that endanger health]: smoking, being overweight, and inactivity,” [Pelle Lindqvist, MD, of Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, Sweden] said. “Now we know there is a fourth — avoiding sun exposure.”
This study’s not perfect. It didn’t look at exercise data, so it could be that more sun exposure was directly related to having a more active lifestyle in general. Active people, after all, tend to spend more time doing outdoorsy, sporty things. But most smokers I know are not outdoorsy, sporty people…
Or there could be a relation to sun exposure and vitamin D levels, although the study didn’t look specifically at that, either.
Actually, this study is not even new. It was originally published almost 2 years ago, and I wrote a post about it at the time.
My takeaway at that time, and it hasn’t changed, is that an active lifestyle is important to our health, and a lot of activities naturally take place outside—in the sunlight.
The sun’s UVB rays help our bodies synthesize vitamin D, and we know vitamin D is important to health. It’s not been proved that vitamin D supplements are helpful; perhaps like many nutrients, calcium for example, our bodies respond much better to natural sources, rather than artificial supplements.
So to keep my body’s production of vitamin D at a healthy level, I try to get 15-30 minutes of unblocked sunshine every day (not easy when you live in Seattle, but I try).
I also make sure to get some fish, eggs and fortified dairy or cereals in my diet several times a week.
But if I’m going to be out in the sun at mid-day, or for several hours at a time, such as on a hike or when I’m gardening, I always wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
While Sweden’s sunshine study doesn’t help us understand why sunshine is good for our health, we can’t help but see a connection.
So this spring and summer get outside and have some fun!
Just remember to use sun protection when and where the UV rays are most intense. 😎