High sun exposure increases risks of developing skin cancer but researchers have found that sunbathers are actually living longer than those who choose to skip out on the sun.

In a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, researchers showed that women who spent time under the sun are outliving their counterparts that stayed out of the sunlight by analyzing information from 29,518 women sunbathers in Sweden across a 20-year period.

According to data gathered, sunbathers lived longer than non-sun worshipers because they had reduced incidences of heart disease, and deaths recorded from the participants were generally not related to heart disease or cancer. However, it has to be noted that cancer was still a factor in some cases.

The researchers were not able to determine whether the benefit of sun exposure was heralded by vitamin D or not so further studies are recommended.

"We found smokers in the highest sun exposure group were at a similar risk as non-smokers avoiding sun exposure, indicating avoidance of sun exposure to be a risk factor of the same magnitude as smoking," said Dr. Pelle Lindqvist, the lead author for the study.

As such, the researchers concluded that current guidelines in placing calling for limited sun exposure are too restrictive and may be doing more harm than good for the health.

So just how much sunlight or, consequently, vitamin D does one need to benefit from sun exposure?

It turns out vitamin D levels above 15 nanograms per milliliter is ideal.

Previous recommendations set ideal vitamin D levels at above 30 ng/mL but findings presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Session in 2015 showed that 15 ng/mL is sufficient.

Vitamin D is unique in that the body is able to produce it in response to exposure to sunlight. However, it is also possible to get doses of the vitamin by eating food like some dairy products, fish and egg yolks. Those who have darker skin have better natural protection against the sun, so they produce lower levels of vitamin D. To get recommended levels of the vitamin, it is suggested that they consider taking vitamin D supplements.

Photo: Dean Hochman | Flickr

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