We’ve been warned about the dangers of sun exposure for so long now that it seems like it might be easier to just avoid the sun all together. But that idea might be starting to change. A recent study found that not getting enough sun exposure has lots of risks too, and they’re biggies, similar to smoking, obesity and not being active. And other research has shown that getting some rays can boost mental health, help with aging and has cardiovascular benefits.
A lot of the good stuff it does comes from the way sunshine prompts vitamin D production. And you can’t get the same benefits from taking a supplement. “Humans have a lot of beneficial biological processes that occur as a direct result of sun exposure,” explains Dr. Michael Holick. “You might see a few of those with vitamin D supplementation, but not to the degree that you do with simply being out in the sun.”
Aside from the vitamin D boost, here are some other ways catching some rays does a body good:
- Better mood – Sunshine helps release serotonin and endorphins, which are hormones linked to happier mood, less depression and being more calm.
- Deeper sleep – Spending time in the sun during the day helps get your natural body clock on track so your body effectively produces melatonin – the hormone that helps you sleep.
- Lower blood pressure – You don’t just feel more relaxed from the sunshine, it’s also lowering your blood pressure and that can reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Reduced risk of some cancers – Sure, sunlight can raise your chances of skin cancer, but several studies have shown a link between sun exposure and lower risks for colorectal, prostate and breast cancer.
- Stronger bones – Getting enough vitamin D also keeps your bones healthy, Holick says. And that matters more as we get older and lose bone strength.
- Potential weight loss – It’s not as easy as dropping a few pounds just from getting a tan, but one study found that the higher your vitamin D levels were before starting a weight loss plan, the more success you had.
But before you grab the baby oil and your bikini for a 1970s style day at the beach, let’s review how to safely get the sun you need. Yes, there are benefits to sun exposure, but you have to be smart about it to avoid melanoma and getting wrinkled before your time. Ideally, you want to get about 10 to 20 minutes of sun on your non-sunscreened skin every day. Holick says it’s better to get a little bit daily than a whole bunch on one day, which could lead to the dreaded sunburn. Try to let the rays hit your shoulders, arms and legs, instead of your more wrinkle-prone face and neck.
Be sure to check for any sun-related damage and watch your moles and blemishes for changes. And unless you’re an actual vampire, get a little sunshine, it’s good for you!