Run in the Sun

By April 24, 2016 December 9th, 2016 Lifestyle & Stress
Beach Runner

Many health experts agree avoiding the sun may be a serious risk for disease.

Is avoiding the sun as big a health risk as smoking cigarettes?

Many health experts believe so, and the latest science is backing them up.

Dr. Pelle Lindqvist and colleagues at Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital, in their recent study from the Journal of Internal Medicine, recently equated sun avoidance with smoking, and went a step further, stating that: “An inborn internal reward system for sun exposure indicates that UV exposure is important for health.”

The same authors previously showed that the mortality rate was doubled in women who avoided active sun exposure, compared to those with the highest sun exposure, and found no differences in malignant melanoma mortality between those with regular sun exposure and those who avoid it.

Much of this information is not new. A number of studies have shown that those with the highest sun exposure had the longest life expectancy.

Another recent study in the British Medical Journal demonstrated that avoiding the sun or having low levels of vitamin D is associated with the same risk of death as smoking, inactivity or obesity.

The caveat: Don’t get burned

To accomplish this one must know their exposure limits. The obvious is that if you’re in northern Australia your time is the sun should be less than if you’re in Sweden; likewise, if your skin is darker or lighter you must adjust to more or less exposure. (If you do get burned, get in a tub of cold water for as long as it takes the burning sensation to stop.)

Do get healthy. Other factors such as chronic inflammation, higher body fat and excess stress contribute significantly to all diseases, including skin cancers.

Overexposure to sun is clearly a risk for malignant melanoma, but it is worsened when using sunscreen and remaining in the sun longer (many people have mistakenly been led to believe they could stay in the sun longer by using regular applications of sunscreen).

Sun versus D

Sun exposure and vitamin D are both important and separate. Vitamin D levels are best developed and maintained by adequate sun exposure. Supplementing with vitamin D can have value, but won’t replace being in the sun.

While vitamin D is considered an essential nutrient, it functions more like a hormone. But the benefits of the sun go beyond this compound, especially the benefits obtained from the sun’s health effects through the eyes (without glasses of any type or contact lenses) and the influence on the brain and body. Consider the results from these studies:

  • Light stimulation of the retina influences the production of melatonin by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin is important for many aspects of health, not just sleep quality but also in regulating the body’s natural rhythms through other hormones.
  • Reduced sun exposure and lower vitamin D may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus.
  • There is an approximately 80 percent lower incidence of Type 1 diabetes among those taking vitamin D supplementation during the first year of life.
  • Sun exposure may lower the risk of multiple sclerosis, with vitamin D deficiency related to an increased frequency of relapse.
  • Low vitamin D levels are related to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • In northern countries there is an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and embolism in winter as compared to summer.
  • The lack of UVB radiation increases the risk of hypertension, reduces calcium absorption and impairs calcium metabolism.
  • UV radiation induces endorphin production, which can reduce stress levels.

My go-to remedy to prevent colds and flu has always been the sun. The relationship between sun, vitamin D and the immune system is not new, but has become a hot area of research lately:

  • Vitamin D has immunoregulatory properties, with deficiency associated with poor immune function and increased disease susceptibility.
  • The sun and vitamin D have antimicrobial effects.
  • Vitamin D may be protective against respiratory infections, such as tuberculosis (not a new idea), influenza and others.
  • Individuals with chronic pulmonary disease are reported to have significantly more exacerbations in the presence of low vitamin D.
  • Vitamin D supplementation (4000 IU/day) was found to reduce antibiotic consumption by approximately 60 percent in patients with immune deficiency.
  • Patients >70 years of age who took vitamin D supplements consumed 50 percent less antibiotics compared to the placebo group.
  • Low vitamin D levels may predict clostridium infection-associated diarrhea.

Skin Cancer

Our sun-phobic society, influenced largely by companies selling products, has resulted in generations of people avoiding the sun, significantly raising the risk of poor health and disease, including skin cancer.

There are three main types of skin cancer, with most but not all associated with UV light. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are similar and often grouped as non-melanoma skin cancers, and generally have a nonfatal prognosis. Malignant melanoma can be serious and fatal (through metastasis), and is typically associated with a history of sunburn, including excessive and frequent exposure to tanning beds.

Full exposure — full disclosure

For decades, the benefits of sun exposure have been suppressed by the commercial interests of companies selling skin-care products. These companies enlist the media to keep promoting their scare tactics. But the facts are slowly — too slowly — coming out in research.

For more information on benefits of the sun and vitamin D, click here, and here.

Instead of hiding in the dark we should be exposing our bodies without protection like all our ancestors did to improve both health and fitness in our brains and bodies, including protection against diseases. Balance is the key word — avoiding overexposure while getting and keeping a great tan.



  • mel says:

    What kind of sunscreen lotion would you recommend? The zinc based ones I know are not really pleasant; they give a white sticky layer on your skin.

    • Mel:

      Ideally, the very best “sunscreen” is light, white, breathable clothes. If you’re talking about sunscreen for your face and hands, I don’t have a good answer for you (although there may be a good answer for you out there). All the natural-ingredient sunscreens (most of which are zinc oxide based) I know leave a white layer.

      If it’s possible for you to wear long sleeves and pants in the summer (light, white, breathable) and use natural zinc oxide sunscreen on the odds and ends of your skin, then what I would recommend is to opt for an outer layer consisting of a very light zip-top that you can take off for your 15-minute warm-up and cool-down, exposing some skin to the sun, while wearing it throughout the rest of your workout. That should easily give you enough sunlight to get all the benefits while making it extremely unlikely that your skin will get stressed enough to burn.

      Hope this helps.

  • mel says:

    what sun protection would you recommend for an ultra or multi-day race?

    • The very best protection is always clothing. For example, a very light, moisture-wicking white athletic long-sleeve shirt and a hat with a sunshield for your neck is excellent. (For example, that’s the kind of thing that you always see worn in the Badwater 135). Since your legs are not getting as much sun, it’s easier to use sunscreen on them.

      And you can always run without the shirt for a little while (say in the morning) and leave that shirt at a rest-stop (or in your backpack) so you can put it on when you’ve decided your skin has had enough sun

  • Shane says:

    Down here at the bottom of the world in New Zealand, we have a bit of a hole above us in the ozone layer which means in the summertime the usual burn time for fairer skinned people is somewhere around 10 minutes and it really is “burn time” with a capital B !! So we do have to balance all these emerging facts with some common sense and some careful thought. Personally I’m not one for wearing sunglasses, but I guess people should have a think about their choice in colour of their lenses so as to allow that red light in while they are out in the sun, looking cool and totally fashionable !

  • Steve Boord says:

    Hi Phil,
    Not to be nit picking, I love your work, but I’m sure you want your articles to be correct to validate your amazing work. A small but important neurological correction needs to be made to the article. The gland you should be referring to is the PINEAL (not the pituitary), also the correct firing sequence is…Light hitting the retina creates a stimulus along the retino-hypothalamic tract to inhibit the firing of suprachiasmic nucleus (SCN). Once light is deprived, the inhibition of the SCN is lifted and the Paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus is stimulated by the SCN using GABA as the main neurotransmitter. The PVN then fires into the IML cell column via sympathetic fibres to the Superior Cervical Ganglion into the PINEAL gland (not the pituitary) using norepinephrine as it’s neurotransmitter. The pineal then produces melatonin from Tryptophan, to 5-HT, to Serotonin and finally melatonin. Melatonin production, is also facilitated by red light and inhibited by blue light.

    • Steve:

      Thanks for picking. That’s a rather important nit. I suspect that it was a typo of sorts (I, for example, keep catching myself halfway through the word “pituitary” when I mean “hypothalamus”). I’ll make sure pineal was indeed intended and make appropriate changes.

  • evan rogers says:

    fantastic article! One correction (production of melatonin by pineal gland not pituitary)

  • ANISH JOSHI says:

    nice article master..
    i stay in india, maharashtra state.
    pune city..

    wanted to ask specific question about how much time one should be exposed in sun..
    and morning times are better or afternoon..

    waiting for reply..

    yours in good health and motivation..

  • Ranjit Dodia says:

    To day i came across the topic -RUN IN THE SUN -. Thanks.
    I like the information very much.
    I request you please subscribe me and please send me regularly the health related information. I am also interested in yoga pranayam meditation and home remedies.
    Thanks. With best regards.

  • Andrew Turner says:

    Sanity and common sense will win out in the end but the head men of these sunscreen companies just like the head men of all companies will never be bought to book for their sins. The terrible thing is that they have been able, in the name of making money, to persuade themselves that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. The fact that they see a difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance places them at the bottom of the table when a morality count is made.

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