This year, that most wonderful season — summer — is shaping up to be a particularly hot one.
It’ll be the perfect time for days spent outdoors at the beach or pool, or for late afternoon grilling sessions.
And as we hear frequently, all that time in the sun comes with risks.
Getting too much sun is dangerous, and skin cancer is a very real risk for anyone who spends extended periods of time outside without covering up or wearing sunscreen (which you should do, religiously).
But there’s also more and more evidence that there are also good reasons for you to soak up some rays — in moderation, of course. Sunshine can help your body clock and your mood, and it may even be essential for your health.
1. Women who spent the most time in the sun outlived those who avoided its rays.
That’s according to a recent study that followed almost 30,000 Swedish women for 20 years.
The women who spent the most time in the sun outlived those who avoided the sun by .6 to 2.1 years, on average, mostly due to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and other non-cancer causes of death.
The study authors controlled for factors like smoking, exercise, and obesity, though they only collected some of that information (like that on exercise) midway through the study.
Those who spent most time in the sun did have higher cancer rates, though the authors largely attribute that to the fact that they lived longer.
This was an observational study, so the authors can’t say that getting more sun was responsible for longer lives. But they think it’s possible that the vitamin D boost people get by spending time in the sun could be a possible explanation for things like improved cardiovascular health.
2. Sunlight wakes you up in the morning and makes it easier for you to fall asleep at night.
Studies of the internal “body clock,” or circadian rhythm, show that the best way to adjust to a new time zone is to expose yourself to light at the right time in the morning.
Even if you aren’t trying to adjust to a new time zone, this is important because exposure to bright natural light via the sun tells your body that it’s daytime, which signals your brain to stop producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm. That cue sets your internal clock for the rest of the day, and sets your brain up to start producing melatonin again when you want to go to sleep at night. According to the National Institutes of Health, you’ll sleep better if you get an hour of natural light in the morning.
3. Spending mornings in the sun might also help you keep weight off.
Adults who get sunlight early in the day are likely to have a lower body mass index, a measure that takes into account weight and height, according to a recent study.
The fact that people sleep better if they get light in the morning could account for this, since people who get enough sleep have an easier time managing their weight. But even after controlling for sleep time, the association between a lower BMI and morning light was still significant — meaning that the connection between morning sun and staying slim wasn’t just due to better sleep.
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