Bask in the Sun to Lower Your Blood Pressure
You may have read that I recently returned from sunny Puerto Rico. It was a welcome break from the deep, dark, cold winter we’ve been having here in Minnesota. Indeed, much of the country has experienced record cold and heavy snowfalls. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait for spring to come again. I love the gradual return of color in the landscape; from dull gray to vibrant green. And I love the chance to be warm again, without having to huddle indoors.
But it’s not just about warmth. I love the feel of the sun on my skin. I’m sure you know what I mean. Who doesn’t like to bask in the warm sun after a long, hard winter?
Well, it turns out there’s more to it than just thawing out. New research shows that sunlight striking bare skin not only feels good, it actually helps reduce your blood pressure. It changes the levels of an important messenger molecule in your body, nitric oxide. And nitric oxide from sun-struck skin makes its way into the bloodstream, where it acts to relax blood vessels.
So the next time someone tells you to “chill out,” you can tell them you’d rather “sun up,” because relaxing is actually about getting a few minutes of quality time basking in the sun. Of course, we’ve been advised for years to reduce our sun exposure out of fear of developing skin cancer. But emerging evidence suggests a little sunshine does a body good, in more ways than one. We need sunlight to spark vitamin D production, for example. And this new information suggests we need a little sunlight to help keep our blood vessels relaxed.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, so anything that helps your blood vessels relax a little is probably a good thing. No one’s suggesting you ignore recommendations to avoid sunburn. But the scientists who published this research (in a dermatology journal, no less!) have suggested that we may need to rethink recommendations to avoid all sun exposure. It could be costing us in terms of cardiovascular health. Come on spring!
University of Southampton (2014, January 17). Here comes the sun to lower your blood pressure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 17, 2014, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/-/releases/2014/01/140117090139.htm