Sun, sand and sea, the best elements that summertime can ever bring. While it’s may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is undeniable that summertime sends many people outdoors to soak up the sun and have some fun.
When summer comes, many people will flock to beaches, parks and poolsides to bask in the sun’s rays and get gorgeous, sun-kissed skin. In the process, suntanning tends to induce perspiration, which most of us will associate with burning calories. But does lying there in the sunshine actually have any weight-loss benefits like many think it does? That’s what we’re here to figure out today. Read on!
Heat Regulation & Metabolism
Like all mammals, humans are endothermic or warm-blooded, which means that we regulate our own body temperature through certain internal mechanisms. When the body senses that it is in an environment that is too hot or too cold, it automatically initiates measures to regulate its own temperature, such as shivering in cold environments or sweating in warmer ones. Other physical responses to warm temperatures include relaxing of the muscles, lowering the production of adrenaline and also lowering the rate at which metabolism occurs.
Metabolism is the process by which the body turns food into energy and supplies that energy to our cells. This energy can either come from the food we have eaten, or from reserves that have been stored in the body as fat. The amount of energy needed at any given point depends on the body’s level of physical activity. A body at rest can still consume a minimum level of energy to maintain basic bodily functions, and this is known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR).
When the body is warm and at rest, our BMR drops to a low level, meaning that the body is consuming fewer calories — just enough to keep itself functioning. Since suntanning involves lying motionless in the sun, our bodies are basically at rest, so our BMR is low then and thus consumes very few calories. Because of this, suntanning can only be said to burn calories in the general sense that doing anything at all burns at least some calories — which means that lying in the sun for hours on end does not burn any more calories than you would if you were sleeping or resting indoors.
A Potential Fat-Burning Benefit
So, the answer to whether suntanning can burn more calories is a resounding no. However, while coating yourself with sunshine doesn’t up your calorie burns, new evidence has come to light (pun intended) that sunlight may, in fact, help you burn more fat. Recent research published in November 2017 concluded that the sun’s blue light wavelengths are able to help shrink white fat cells located just beneath the skin’s surface.
This discovery was actually accidental when researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada set out to help people suffering from type 1 diabetes by attempting to genetically engineer these fat cells to produce insulin when exposed to light. Along the way, they were pleasantly surprised to note that exposure to the sun’s rays was actually able to shrink the lipid droplets in the fat cells under the skin and cause these cells to store less fat.
However, the researchers also noted that while the accidental results looked promising, more studies need to be done in this particular area, like the intensity or duration of sunlight needed to activate this process. Basically, what this means is that you shouldn’t swap your gym membership for a beach mat just yet.
Sunbathing & Other Health Factors
Beyond weight loss, there are some other health benefits to be gained from suntanning. Sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, which is an important nutrient that helps the body to absorb calcium, which in turn contributes to healthy bones and joints.
Some research has also linked vitamin D with better heart health. There’s even some evidence that suggests sunlight exposure may actually lower your risk for certain types of cancer. In particular, a study conducted in 2014 found that it lowered the risk of breast cancer, while another research study in April 2015 linked weak or poor sunlight exposure to a higher risk for pancreatic cancer.
However, it should be noted that prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays also carries some health risks, including sun-damaged skin in the form of wrinkles and dark spots, and also increasing the likelihood of skin cancers. To help lower this risk, it is highly recommended for you to generously applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen (which protects against both UVA and UVB rays) with SPF of 30 or higher whenever you plan to be in the sun, and be sure to reapply at least every two hours as the effectiveness of the sunscreen diminishes over time.