The sun has gotten a bad rap in the media based on medical research that linked spending time in the sun to developing skin cancer. We were warned to stay out of the sun, and if we did go into the sun to heavily layer ourselves with 50 SPF sunscreen, and wear clothes and hats to cover our bodies.
I have to admit that I never listened to that advice. I love the sun and am a sunbather from WAY back. I was never one of those slather baby oil on myself and use a reflective blanket to intensify the rays kind of person like many people my age, but I have always enjoyed laying out in the sun with my book (now my Kindle), some music, a cold drink, and good friends to accompany me. I always felt guilty about it though, as if I were doing something wrong and would get in trouble if I got caught. My sunbathing became more hidden as I got older, I guess you’d call me a closet sunbather!
Now though, new research has become available to change that opinion and bring me out of the closet, so to speak. In one study I read, scientists at the University of Edinburgh in the UK have found that the heart healthy benefits of sun exposure may outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer. They found that when the sun touches our skin, we release a compound called nitric
Oxide into our blood vessels which helps lower blood pressure. Reducing blood pressure greatly reduces the risk for heart attacks and strokes which kills far more people than skin cancer does.
Also, the sun helps us produce vitamin D in our bodies and research shows that most of us are deficient in that vitamin. Lack of vitamin D in our bodies is linked to everything from multiple sclerosis to prostate cancer to heart disease. And don’t think that you can pop a supplement to get your vitamin D and that will be as good as the sun, because oral supplements do not decrease our risk for these illnesses. Only the sun does that.
In addition to protecting us from heart disease, the sun can improve mood, which is essential for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). To be beneficial though, the sun has to touch our skin, not just our eyes.
This doesn’t give us free reign to lay in the sun and burn ourselves or our children to a crisp, and I would never advocate that. I’ve always used sun screen when I’m in the sun during the strongest sun hours of 10 am to 2 pm, even though I have darker skin. My youngest daughter has pale skin and I have always made sure she uses a sunscreen of at least SPF 30, and we all wear sunglasses to protect our eyes from the sun’s rays. I also prefer to lay in a shady spot, either under an umbrella or overhang, and I still get plenty of the sun’s rays there, just not the intensity, which is preferable to me.
So in summary, all of you closet sun worshippers like me can wear your bathing suits proudly and enjoy your time in the sun as long as you practice safe sun strategies of wearing sunglasses, sunscreen, utilizing the shade whenever possible, and avoiding sunburn or overexposure to the sun. You’re even protecting yourself from some really bad diseases in the process! Happy tanning!