A new study finds avoiding the sun is just as bad for your health as smoking. Let's take a deeper look.
You've made it a point to regularly choose the shade over the sun (right?!). Well, new research from the Journal of Internal Medicine challenges the whole "avoid the sun like the plague" thing.
According to the study, women who regularly sunbathed had lower mortality rates than those who tried to stay out of the sun. They also had a lower risk of developing heart disease and dying of non-cancer and non-cardiovascular-related causes than the shade seekers. The researchers, who followed nearly 30,000 Swedish women for 20 years, determined the sun avoiders reduced their lifespan by .6 to 2.1 years. Researchers even went so far as to conclude that avoiding the sun is just as bad as smoking since nonsmokers who stayed in the shade had a lifespan similar to smokers in the sun-loving group. Cue confusion.
Here's why this isn't an excuse to throw your SPF in the trash and take up tanning (which is still horrible, BTW): First, the sunbathing group had an increased risk of dying of cancer and was more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer. While skin cancer can certainly be deadly, a lot of cases aren't if caught early, which could explain why they still lived longer, says Dave Belk, M.D., an internal medicine specialist. (You should still wear The Best Sunscreens for Ultimate Sun Protection when outdoors.)
And not everyone's on board with the study's findings. "They could have dangerous repercussions," says Stuart Spitalnic, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine at Brown University School of Medicine. The results may be skewed since women who sunbathe likely come from the upper class, which is a group that tends to be healthier to begin with, he says. "You could then make a case that sunbathing perhaps shortens the life of sunbathers compared to similar people who avoid the sun."
Plus, the women's activity levels could also play a role in the findings. "The longer life expectancy associated with the sun may be more attributable to the fact that people who spend more time outdoors also tend to get more exercise," says Belk. (See: Moving Is Key to a Longer Life.)
The bottom line? Don't take this study as an excuse to sunbathe for hours. But do enjoy your favorite outdoor actvities—just load up on SPF first.