One health recommendation that you’ve probably seen change quite a bit over your lifetime is how much time you should spend in the sun. When I was younger, people who spent a lot of time outdoors were often perceived as healthier than those with paler skin. Now doctors are always warning people to avoid the sun and to cover up their skin with clothing and sunscreen when they do venture outside. It’s true that the sun can contribute to certain skin cancers, but these skin cancers are easily handled and never deadly. So is the sun really the enemy we’ve made it out to be?
Many studies have revealed an interesting finding: women who sunbathe, on the whole, live longer than those who don’t. Yes, these sun worshippers do have an increased risk of skin cancer. But that doesn’t seem to be the only effect of catching some rays.
Researchers in Sweden decided to investigate this interesting phenomenon. They gathered data from nearly 30,000 Swedish women over the course of 20 years. And while the women who sunbathed did have higher rates of skin cancer, they had lower rates of both heart disease and non-cancer and non-heart disease-related deaths. And the increase in risk for one issue was more than countered by the decrease in risk for other issues.
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In fact, the researchers found that women who smoked but sunbathed had the same risk of death as those who stayed out of the sun and didn’t smoke. That’s a significant finding! I bet most of you don’t smoke because of the negative effects it has on your health. But this study indicates that avoiding the sun can be just as dangerous as smoking!
The researchers aren’t quite sure why the sun is so beneficial. But if you want to find out why and how sunlight can improve your health, I’ve written an entire chapter on the subject in my book Bursting With Energy. Believe it or not, we’ve known of the health enhancing effects of sunlight for over a hundred years.
Overall, the researchers concluded that we may all want to consider spending more time outdoors. I agree. I think the benefits of the sun clearly outweigh the risks. However, you do want to avoid getting sunburned. I’ve written about how to do this without wearing sunscreen before. One of the best ways is to ensure you’re eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. In particular, you want to make sure you get plenty of beta carotene. You can take it in supplement form if you suspect you aren’t getting enough. Then try gradually increasing the time you spend outdoors. Another great supplement to make your skin more resistant to sunburn is Pycnogenol. Take 100-200 mg per day. I think you’ll enjoy the benefits.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
P. G. Lindqvist, E. Epstein, K. Nielsen, M. Landin-Olsson, C. Ingvar, H. Olsson. Avoidance of sun exposure as a risk factor for major causes of death: a competing risk analysis of the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort. Journal of Internal Medicine, 2016; DOI: 10.1111/joim.12496