Let the Sun In (Fitness Diary 3/52)

I’ve undergone a lifestyle change the past two years or so as I’ve shifted to home-based work. The outdoor workouts I used to be able to do in the mornings have gone, replaced by lunchtime treadmill sessions and indoor swims. And while I have otherwise felt fulfilled at work and in spending time with my loved ones, I’ve progressively fallen down a hole of dark moods that have paralyzed me at times. I’ve also been sickly.

Then yesterday I read an article on Outside Magazine summarizing controversial new research about the benefits of sun exposure even with the risk of skin cancer. Here are a few choice quotes:

Could exposing skin to sunlight lower blood pressure? Sure enough, when he exposed volunteers to the equivalent of 30 minutes of summer sunlight without sunscreen, their nitric oxide levels went up and their blood pressure went down. Because of its connection to heart disease and strokes, blood pressure is the leading cause of premature death and disease in the world, and the reduction was of a magnitude large enough to prevent millions of deaths on a global level…

Sunlight triggers the release of a number of other important compounds in the body, not only nitric oxide but also serotonin and endorphins. It reduces the risk of prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. It improves circadian rhythms. It reduces inflammation and dampens autoimmune responses. It improves virtually every mental condition you can think of. And it’s free…

Cancer Council Australia’s official-position paper (endorsed by the Australasian College of Dermatologists) states, “Ultraviolet radiation from the sun has both beneficial and harmful effects on human health…. A balance is required between excessive sun exposure which increases the risk of skin cancer and enough sun exposure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels…. It should be noted that the benefits of sun exposure may extend beyond the production of vitamin D. Other possible beneficial effects of sun exposure‚Ķ include reduction in blood pressure, suppression of autoimmune disease, and improvements in mood.”

You can read that Outside Online article here. It’s pretty well-sourced and cites peer-review published journal articles from reputable researchers and experts.

I’ve always said I was solar-powered, waking when sunbeams peek into my windows. Before I got into triathlon, I spent all my money on going to beaches. And subjectively speaking, I love feeling the morning sun hit my skin. Conversely, I enjoy the anti-ageing benefits of not exposing my skin to sunlight — I look younger now than when I was actively swimming, biking, and running. But sun-avoiding me feels so much older and more exhausted than when I was a sun worshipper. I wonder…

I don’t expect sunning myself to be a panacea, something that will cure all my ailments. But I need to let the sun in and banish some of this darkness I’ve been feeling lately.

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