PAB Newsletter #15 – Smart sun exposure: more benefits than risks!

Jul 12, 2022 | Home News, News, Performance

Authors: Igor Jukic, Jaime Sampaio, Francesco Cuzzolin, Julio Calleja-Gonzalez, Mar Rovira, Baris Kocaoglu, Sergej M. Ostojic

The sun and sunlight

Sun is a star around which Earth and the other components of the solar system revolve. The Sun is the source of an enormous amount of energy, a portion of which provides Earth with the light and heat necessary to support life. (Encyclopedia Britannica). An optimal amount of solar energy enables a person to have optimal health and perform daily activities. However, when our body is both too little or too much exposed to the sun, health can be compromised (1). At the same time, the danger of excessive sun exposure is much more pronounced in the public, in various media and even in the scientific community. Such an approach is supported by evidence of the harmful effects of UV radiation on the onset and development of various diseases (2). However, it is important to know that insufficient exposure to sunlight can also cause health problems and poor performance in athletes (3). Sunlight is an important part of an athlete’s life throughout the year. This is especially true for indoor sports athletes such as basketball, in which players spend most of their time in training and competition indoors (4). Still, part of the summertime of the elite basketball players is also associated with some well-deserved time off at comfortable vacation spots with their loved ones. In such situations, players must be adequately informed about the benefits and risks of sun exposure.

Health considerations

Since it was discovered that UV radiation was the main environmental cause of skin cancer, primary prevention programs have started. These programs advise avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight. However, the question arises of whether sun-shunning behavior might have an effect on general health (5). During the last decades, new favorable associations have been discovered between sunlight and disease have been discovered. There is growing observational and experimental evidence that regular exposure to sunlight contributes to the prevention of colon, breast, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and diabetes among others (5). Initially, these beneficial effects were ascribed to vitamin D. This is the main reason why  Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” given that it is produced in the skin in response to sunlight. The body produces vitamin D naturally when it’s directly exposed to sunlight. Therefore, considering these data it seems that regular sun exposure benefits health (5).

Performance consideration

A. Insufficient sun exposure can have consequences for sports performance, and the reasons are mainly related to hypovitaminosis D.

What effects might hypovitaminosis D have on athletic performance? (3)

  • Adverse effects on bone health, including fracture healing
  • Adverse effect on skeletal muscle function.
  • Increased risk of infections.
  • Increased risk of immune disorders and development of autoimmune diseases.
  • Effect on vital organs influencing athletic conditioning and performance: pulmanory, cardiovascular.
  • Adverse effect on diabetic control.
  • Increased risk of neurological disorders and altered pain perception.
  • Adverse psychological effects on performance.

B. An increase in vitamin D level may result in several benefits in the muscular and skeletal systems of athletes. Their protein synthesis and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) concentration in the muscle tissue increase, and as a result their muscle strength, jumping height, jumping power, exercise capacity, and physical performance increase. The results of latest the research from all around the world showed that 56% of the athletes had inadequate vitamin D levels (6). Vitamin D inadequacy risk in athletes significantly increases in higher latitudes, in winter and early spring seasons, and for indoor sports activities (7).

Sun exposure current recommendation

Based on the last scientific research, consensus statements and practical experiences of performance professionals (8), we list some of the basic recommendations (table 1) for controlled sun exposure in order to improve health and improve athletic performance. It is very important to understand that these recommendations are general and that before sun exposure it is necessary to carefully take into account the individual characteristics of each player (health status, pigmentation, skin thickness and skin color), their experiences and adaptation in sun exposure and geographical specificity of living place and time of the year.

Table 1: Basic recommendations for controlled sun exposure to improve health and improve athletic performance

Conclusion

In this newsletter, we did not discuss oral and intramuscular vitamin D supplementation, which we already covered in PAB Newsletter #3. The idea and the purpose of this newsletter is to promote and educate athletes and their coaches about the most natural source of vitamin D – our beautiful sun.

References:

  1. Alfredsson, L., Armstrong, B.K., Butterfield, D.A., Chowdhury, R., de Gruijl, F.R., Feelisch, M., Garland, C.F., Hart, P.H., Hoel, D.G., Jacobsen, R., Lindqvist, P.G., Llewellyn, D.J., Tiemeier, H., Weller, R.B., Young, A.R. Insufficient Sun Exposure Has Become a Real Public Health Problem. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jul 13;17(14):5014 doi: 10.3390/ijerph17145014.
  2. Hoel, D.G., Berwick,M.,  de Gruijl, F.J.,  Holick, M.F. (2016) The risks and benefits of sun exposure 2016, Dermato-Endocrinology, 8:1, e1248325, DOI: 10.1080/19381980.2016.1248325
  3. Ribbans, W.J., Aujla, R., Dalton, S, Ninley, J.A. Vitamin D and the athlete–patient: state of the art. J ISAKOS 2021;6:46–60.
  4. Fishman, M.P., Lombardo, S.J., Kharrazi, F.D. Vitamin D Deficiency Among Professional Basketball Players. Orthop J Sports Med. 2016 Jul 6;4(7):2325967116655742. doi: 10.1177/2325967116655742. eCollection 2016 Jul.
  5. J. van der Rhee, E. de Vries, J.W. Coebergh. Regular sun exposure benefits health, Medical Hypotheses, Volume 97, 2016, Pages 34-37, ISSN 0306-9877, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2016.10.011.
  6. Larson-Meyer, D.E. and Willis, K.S. Vitamin D and athletes. Curr Sports Med Rep 2010; 9(4): 220–226.
  7. Farrokhyar F, Tabasinejad R, Dao D, et al. Prevalence of vita- min D inadequacy in athletes: a systematic-review and meta- analysis. Sports Med 2015; 45(3): 365–378.
  8. Verma, C., Lehane, J., Neale, R.E., Janda, M. Review of sun exposure guidance documents in Australia and New Zealand. Public Health Res Pract. 2022;32(1):e3212202.

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