The next time it's warm outside, I plan to slip into a sundress, grab a novel, and sit out on the deck with my feet up and a glass of iced tea in my hand. And if anyone asks me what I'm doing, I'll say: "I'm watching my weight."
Want to know the best part? I'll be telling the truth!
That's because a new study suggests that getting a daily dose of sunlight helps prevent the "pound creep" we're all prone to. And that's not all: It could help protect against diabetes, too.
In the study, scientists overfed mice and then exposed them to ultraviolet light to mimic sunlight. The sunbathing mice ate less, and they also had lower blood glucose levels and fewer signs of insulin resistance (which is an early step on the road to diabetes).
Now, you might guess that vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin," was responsible for these benefits. However, that's not the case. Instead, another chemical -- nitric oxide, which is released by the skin when you're exposed to sunlight -- turned out to be the hero. When the scientists rubbed a cream containing nitric oxide on the mice, it had the same effect as the UV light.
Of course, scientists still need to make sure that when it comes to sunlight and weight, what's true for mice is also true for people. But this study offers yet another clue that we need to have sunshine in our lives -- and that slathering ourselves and our kids with sunscreen every time we go outdoors could be a big health mistake.
It's true that too much sun ups your risk for skin cancer and gives you wrinkles, so I'm not recommending that you "sun bake." (I've seen the results of that, and it's not pretty.) For long stays in the sun, you still need to break out the sunscreen, sunglasses, and a big floppy hat.
But when it comes to sun exposure, too little is as bad as too much. In fact, this week's new study is just one in a long string of findings about the benefits of sunshine. Here are some of them:
• It can help lower your blood pressure.
• It can help lower your risk of breast cancer.
• It may help reduce your risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
• It can help boost your mood.
All of this makes perfect sense when you think about it. Our bodies evolved to love the sunshine, not to hide from it. So it's only natural that we need a little dose of this natural medicine every day.
My advice? If you've been avoiding the sun, start exposing your skin gradually. Once you build up your tolerance, aim for at least 10 or 15 minutes of sun time every day if you're fair-skinned. (Just make sure you stop well before you start turning pink.) Shoot for 20 minutes if you have medium-toned skin, and half an hour if you have a deep skin tone.
So slip into your shorts or your sundress -- or, if it's freezing outside, at least show Mister Sunshine your face for a few minutes every day -- because a little sun worship is a very good thing.