Sure, delicious holiday treats, chunky knit blankets, and endless viewing material on Netflix may be partly to blame for winter weight gain, but new research suggests less time spent in the sun could also be a contributing factor. (I knew there was *another* reason everyone escapes to the beach in the winter…)
The new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada and published in the journal Nature, found that the fat cells beneath your skin actually shrink when they’re exposed to blue light from the sun. Alternatively, less sunlight causes the cells to store more fat for warmth.
“The insufficient sunlight exposure we get living in a northern climate may be promoting fat storage and contribute to the typical weight gain some of us have over winter.” — Dr. Peter Light, senior study author
“When the sun’s blue light wavelengths—the light we can see with our eye—penetrate our skin and reach the fat cells just beneath, lipid droplets reduce in size and are released out of the cell. In other words, our cells don’t store as much fat,” said senior study author Peter Light, PhD, in a press release. “If you flip our findings around, the insufficient sunlight exposure we get eight months of the year living in a northern climate may be promoting fat storage and contribute to the typical weight gain some of us have over winter.”
Just because sunlight may have a role in helping you shed pounds doesn’t mean you should bask in it, though: Additional research to support the study findings is needed, and overdoing sun exposure can lead to serious issues like skin cancer. But, the findings open a door that could lead to medication or light-based treatments for obesity, as well as insight into conditions like diabetes, Light said.
It’s too soon to tell what will come of this research, but getting some sunlight does offer other benefits, like potentially helping you reach your weight-loss goals. Vitamin D, which you get from the sun, ensures your body properly absorbs calcium, which promotes strong bones, and also keeps your immune system strong to prevent illness, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And while it’s easy to get your daily dose of vitamin D amid the summer sunshine, the same can be pretty tough in the colder months. But, *try* to enjoy every sunny winter day you can! Science says, you guys.