Eight health benefits of sunshine

From warding off dementia to the common cold

Happy retired woman wearing shawl sitting relaxed on sand at the beach. Senior caucasian woman sitting on the beach outdoors

No one is suggesting you chuck away the sunscreen and fry on the beach, but research shows that getting some sun could do wonders for your health. From helping you to live longer to maintaining a healthy weight, here are eight health benefits of sunshine.

See also: Five best supplements for the over 50s

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1. Keeps your bones strong

The body produces vitamin D through exposure to sunshine, but if you stay indoors for much of the day or stay covered up, there's a chance you're not getting enough. In fact, it's estimated that around half of all British adults have some degree of vitamin D deficiency - which can lead to weak bones and increase your risk of osteoporosis.

2. Regulates blood pressure

According to researchers from Copenhagen University Hospital, people with the lowest levels of vitamin D are 81% more likely to die from heart disease compared to those with the highest levels of the vitamin.

Our skin produces a compound called nitric oxide when it's exposed to the sun, and this lowers blood pressure by causing blood vessels to widen. Many experts now believe that the health benefits of exposing skin to sunlight may far outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer.

3. Wards off a cold

A bit of sunshine could be just what you need to keep colds and flu at bay. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people with lower levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream were 30% more likely to have had a recent infection than those with higher levels of the sunshine vitamin.

3. Improves your mood

You know that good weather improves your mood, but do you know why? Experts say that sunshine helps to promote the production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. One recent study found that people with depressive symptoms and low blood-levels of vitamin D experienced a significant improvement in mood after spending seven weeks in the sun.

4. Wards off dementia

Research into the role of vitamin D and dementia has produced some interesting results. One study found that people with higher levels of the sunshine vitamin performed better on memory and cognitive performance tests than those with lower levels.

Another study from the University of Exeter Medical School found that over-65s who were moderately deficient in vitamin D had a 53% increased risk of developing dementia, while those who were severely deficient had a 125% increased risk.

Not only that, studies show that Alzheimer's patients exposed to bright light encountered fewer symptoms of depression, agitation and night-time wakefulness.

5. Helps you lose weight

It sounds too good to be true, but researchers at Edinburgh University say that moderate sun exposure may help to slow weight gain and so protect against obesity and diabetes - at least in mice. When overfed rodents were exposed to UV light, they put on less weight and displayed fewer diabetes-related symptoms, such as abnormal glucose levels and insulin resistance.

6. May help prevent cancer

Although you need to take precautions to avoid skin cancer, getting some exposure to sunshine has been linked to lower incidences of many types of cancer. Research shows that sunshine can help protect against lymphoma and cancers of the prostate, lung, kidney, bowel, and even the skin. In fact, many experts believe that "safe sun" — 15 minutes or so a few times a week without sunscreen — can help you live longer.

7. Fights skin diseases

If you have eczema, acne or psoriasis, exposing your skin to sunshine can have positive benefits. Dermatologists say that UV exposure attracts immune cells to the skin surface, and can help to heal a number of skin conditions.

8. Boosts your sex drive

Last but by no means least, sunlight can do wonders for your libido. A 2010 Austrian study of 2,299 men found that levels of the male sex hormone testosterone peak in the month of August, and drop in the winter, hitting their lowest levels in March. So get out in the sun - you'll feel better for it!