Sunshine: Hero or villain?

I don’t know anyone who complains about the sun shining, but for my fellow pasty northern folk this usually means either lathering ourselves with SPF to protect oneself from the sun’s harmful rays or turning as pink as a mole’s nose and as sore as a belly flop from the top board. The former is for a fear of developing skin cancer and an attempt at preventing ageing of the skin, the blokes usually favour the latter as they stupidly think wearing sunscreen is as macho as synchronized swimming. The sun however isn’t all evil. Its UV rays allow our bodies to manufacture potent supplies of vitamin D, a substance essential for bone health. Without these UV rays our body is prone to a vitamin D deficiency, because unlike other vitamins, no matter how many greens or oily fishes we eat, our bodies cannot produce enough vitamin D without the sun’s rays.

It’s long been known that a lack of vitamin D leaches muscles and bones of calcium, leading to pain, weakness, osteoporosis and fractures, but research published contradicts the long-held belief that avoiding UV radiation will reduce the risk of skin cancer. In fact their findings suggest that avoiding the sun leads to an increased risk not only of melanoma, but of any other cause of premature death including other cancers. The researchers conclude that a lack of vitamin D from too little sunlight is to blame for adverse health effects seen in their trial. It is thought that 50% of white skinned, 90% of dark skinned and 25% of British children display vitamin D deficiencies. And if you think how sunny Yorkshire is, this shouldn’t be happening in our region!!!

In my opinion the problem is a combination of two factors. Firstly, people have taken scientists’ advice to the extreme over the last 30 years, and rather than limiting sun light exposure, people have avoided it all together by keeping their heads and bodies covered at all times with clothes and/or sunblock. Secondly, the fact that over the last 60 years we have migrated indoors as we spend more time inside our offices, homes and shopping centres, means we are kept away from the sun all year round. Computer games and TV have been blamed for a resurgence of rickets, a problem last linked to Victorian poverty, as children no longer play outside.

With all this conflicting information you’re probably wondering what the solution is? Scientists are yet to precisely advise how much sunlight is healthy. I would suggest using common sense. I think that old saying ‘everything in moderation’ applies well. We should try and take in the sun’s rays little, but often and not binge on the sun. Taking in the sun’s rays without protection for about 15 minutes in the morning, or late afternoon & evening is safer than during the intense midday sun. Opportunities to practice this throughout autumn and winter, whilst more difficult, should be seized. It is still important to wear sunscreen, cover up and find shade on the days when you need to be out for long periods on a sunny day because it is essential that you avoid burning. In summary the sun is our hero, essential for our health, but equally, if misused, it transforms into a villain!

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