Since the early 90s we have all been slathering on sunscreen and avoiding the sun. Of course we have been taking our vitamin D drops but has this trend really helped us to live longer without disease?
We all know that as far as lifestyle goes there are at least 3 things that endanger health in a major way: smoking, being overweight and inactivity. Perhaps now we can add another risk factor- avoiding sun exposure. Recent studies out of Sweden (Mar. 16, 2016, Journal of Internal Medicine) have now found that restricting sun exposure, especially in places where the UV index is low or where we get very few hours of sunlight, may be as dangerous as smoking cigarettes!
The study showed that women who enjoy the sun are generally at lower risk for cardiovascular disease, and non-cancer/ non-CVD diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and pulmonary diseases than those who avoided the sun. Of course, there is an increased risk of skin cancers but the skin cancers that occurred in sun seekers had a much better prognosis.
Sun avoidance in non-smokers shortened life expectancy by 0.6-2.1 years. Even in smokers at 60 years of age with the most active sun exposure habits had a 2 year longer life expectancy than smokers who avoided the sun. Most interestingly, the benefits from sunshine increased with the amount of exposure. Scientists are not yet sure whether the positive effect is directly due to vitamin D, which when deficient may make melanomas more malignant, or due to another factor related to UV radiation.
What the study suggests is that perhaps we have been applying too much sunscreen and avoiding normal exposure to sunlight. Certainly, if you are out on a boat or in a situation where no shelter can be found from the midday sun, applying sunscreen may be your only chance to avoid a painful burn but we need the sun, possibly more than previously thought!
Frances Wang, ND
A naturopathic doctor and a mother who loves life, the outdoors and exercise.