Sunbathing’s reputation has suffered in recent years – and for good reason. A new long-term survey from Sweden, however, suggests that doing completely without sunshine can endanger our lives.
The risk of skin cancer still exists, of course – but research from Sweden suggests evading the sun could pose a similar risk to your health as smoking. Scientists accompanied 30,000 women over a period of 20 years and asked them about their exposure to the sun. The results now comprise an enormous database at the Karolinska Institutet, one of the Europe’s biggest and most prestigious medical universities. 1,700 women, around 6% of the participants, avoided the sun over the 20-year period. This was the group with the highest mortality rate. The women died up to two years earlier than those who went sunbathing as often as possible.
Among sun worshippers, the risk of dying of cardio-vascular disease then also fell. That also applied to all other causes of death, except certain forms of cancer – because those women lived to older ages, and therefore had an advanced risk of that disease.
The researchers have so far been focusing on the quantitative results, and have yet to look into why sunbathing could extend your life. They did mention the benefits of vitamin D, however, which the body can only generate itself when exposed to sunshine and which is responsible for a range of health-boosting processes in the body.
And in other respects, too, the sun has a positive effect on us. Light inhibits the production of the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy in the dark, and stimulates production of serotonin, a so-called happiness hormone. It could well be the case that a longer life expectancy is linked to the positive effects of temporary boosts of sunlight – which the Swedish researchers likewise consider possible.
Although as ever it’s the dose that makes the poison. So now and again you should go out in the sun, and enjoy the feeling.