We all know that sitting out in the sun too long can do more damage than just sunburn; it has been associated with skin cancer. But recent studies have shown that not getting enough sunlight can be just as deadly as smoking!
Fun in the Sun?
A recent study conducted in Sweden tracked the sun exposure habits of 29,518 women over a 20 year period. What they found was that the women with more active sun exposure habits were at lower risk of cardiovascular and non-cancer-related death, but the contribution of cancer death had increased.
However, nonsmokers who limited their sun exposure had a similar life expectancy to smokers that were in the highest sun exposure group. When comparing the highest and lowest exposure groups, the life expectancy of sun avoiders was 0.6-2.1 years shorter on average.
Robyn Lucas, an epidemiologist at Australian National University led a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology that found more lives are lost to diseases as a result of lack of sunlight than those caused by too much.
Since cancer risk is known to increase along with biological age, the data can appear that cancer risk has increased when it may just be skewed due to the increased life expectancy. Heart disease has the highest mortality rate worldwide, with cancer being second. By reducing the risk of the former, even if it increases the risk of the latter, the longer life expectancy rules this out and the net effect of sunlight exposure is that it will help you live a longer life.
How much is too much sunlight?
Sunlight is high in Vitamin D, a known cancer-combating vitamin, but just exposing yourself constantly to sunlight is not exactly the best idea. Over-exposure has been proven to lead to skin cancer, so be wary of your skin type and adjust your sunlight exposure habits accordingly.
Experts estimate that a fair skinned individual only needs about 10 minutes in the midday sun, wearing a tank top, shorts and no sunscreen, to provide the necessary amount of Vitamin D per day. Darker skins absorb less UV-B rays, so they would need about 15-20 minutes under the same parameters.
Age also factors in as elderly people produce less Vitamin D and would need longer periods in the sun than the estimates. It’s also much more difficult to get a recommended amount of sunlight exposure in the winter so be sure to soak up the sun as much as possible in the summer.
Although smoking is a well-known bad habit, not getting enough sunlight is something most of us have never thought of. With all the exaggeration over too much sun and skin cancer, it can be difficult to change the public mindset. So maybe using a beach day as an excuse to get out of work early isn’t such a bad idea after all!