Have you ever noticed how everything changes as soon as the first signs of Spring appear? Crocuses peek out from the earth, people start smiling more and gardens suddenly bloom into life after months of lying dormant.
There’s long been a joke around the way British people burst with enthusiasm as soon as the first signs of Spring sunshine arrive. Suddenly, the nation starts dusting off barbecues, traipsing to the beach to attempt to soak up even the weakest of sun rays, and shedding layers of clothing in an optimistic shared celebration.
However, the past few decades have increasingly warned of the potential risks of too much sun, raising awareness of associated health problems – and longer-term – the implications of a carefree attitude towards tanning, neglecting to protect the skin against UV rays. On the other hand, science has always informed us that a lack of natural light can equally create significant health problems and impact longevity and wellbeing.
Given these conflicting approaches to the first sunshine of Spring, how do we weigh up the benefits against the risks, to reach a positive, and safe, resolution? We’ve pulled up both sides of the debate to provide you with a definitive guide….
The health benefits of soaking up the sun
Getting enough sunshine has a host of benefits in addition to providing you with an immediate lift in mood. It has been linked to the following health benefits:
- A reduction in Type 2 Diabetes
- The ability to assist in weight loss to prevent obesity
- Reduction in the development of certain types of cancer
- Enhancing protection of sight through improved eye health
- Lowering blood pressure and enhancing the quality and duration of night-time slumber
- Boosting the immune system significantly, raising T-cells (our body’s first line of defence against infection and illness).
Given all this, it’s hard to consider shunning sunlight in favour of taking a low-risk approach to being away from the great outdoors. Children need time playing outside to improve mental functioning and ability to learn, and adults need the mood-enhancing stress-decreasing abilities which only time in the sun can provide.
Government recommendations for sun exposure recommend at least fifteen minutes each day – and much more in the winter periods. However, now Spring is officially here, a gentle stroll in the morning sun for a quarter of an hour each day will work wonders for your health, mood and wellbeing.
The risks of significant sun exposure
Beyond the obvious health impacts of an over-exposure to sunlight (such as premature ageing of the skin and the risk of sunburn), skin cancer is a significant and under-represented risk.
According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 16,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed annually. 2, 285 people die as a result of the disease in the UK each year, and 86% of all cases diagnosed could have been prevented through observing sensible precautions when it comes to soaking up the sun.
However, there is currently a survival rate for skin cancer of over 85%, meaning that it isn’t all doom and gloom even if the disease is diagnosed. The majority of people go on to live healthy, happy lives, despite their previous choices in terms of getting too much sun without adequate protection.
Weighing the balance
According to the NHS, it’s potentially possible to weigh up the benefits vs hazards of sunlight by calculating the different country levels of sun exposure in comparison to rates of cancer around the globe. The importance of Vitamin D in the body, for residents of Britain who are far less likely to be exposed to ongoing high levels of sunlight, mean that it’s important to gain natural sunlight each day to maintain health.
However, sun is incontrovertibly linked to higher incidences of skin cancer if tan-chasers neglect to protect themselves against harmful rays. This suggests, when we weigh up the health benefits and risks, that sunlight in moderation is critical to health and wellbeing – but we need to take all reasonable precautions once we’ve gained those initial benefits from being outside in the Spring sunshine.
With all of that in mind, it’s time to dust off the t-shirts and shorts, and do what we Brits do best – maximising time in the sun while we have the opportunity!