As we’ve been saying for years, sunshine is good for you. The latest research has discovered it helps reduce blood pressure, which cuts the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Sunlight activates nitric oxide (NO) molecules on our skin, which transfer to our circulation system. NOs improve the health and ‘tone’ of our arteries and blood vessels, and this reduces blood pressure levels.

The discovery, by researchers at Southampton University, explains why deaths from cardiovascular disease peak in the winter months and in countries furthest from the equator.

The researchers exposed 24 volunteers to two, 20-minute sessions under a ultraviolet (UVA) sunlamp and then under the lamp with the UVA rays blocked.

Only the UVA sessions—which emulate real sunlight—had a beneficial effect. The UVA exposure dilates blood vessels, which significantly lowers blood pressure.

As cardiovascular disease is responsible for 30 per cent of all deaths, lead researcher Martin Feelisch says it is time to re-evaluate the current public health advice on sun exposure. “Avoiding excess sunlight exposure is critical to prevent skin cancer, but not being exposed to it at all, out of fear or as a result of a certain lifestyle, could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease,” he says.

(Source: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2014; doi: 10.1038/jd.2014.27)