Sunshine Lowers Blood Pressure and Improves Heart Health, Study Finds

As if you needed more reason to lay out and bask in the sun, scientists now tell us those warm rays may actually help your heart. Move over, polar vortex. Exposure to sunshine could help lower blood pressure, decreasing your chances of heart attacks and stroke, according to a new study.

While too much time out in the sunlight is still dangerous (think skin cancer), researchers from the University of Edinburgh found those same rays cause a release of nitric oxide into the bloodstream, dilating vessels and decreasing blood pressure. Hypertension is known as the "silent killer" and affects 76.4 million adults in the United States. High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood flow increases, stretching the walls of the arteries and making your heart less effective.

Researchers exposed 24 volunteers to tanning lamps for two 20-minute sessions. In one sitting, the participants were exposed to UV rays and heat, while the other blocked the rays so only heat affected the skin. The intensity was comparable to standing in the sun for 30 minutes in Southern Europe.

Though the change in blood pressure was small, it was enough to make a difference. Blood pressures still dropped significantly when the volunteers were exposed to both UV rays and heat. It remained unaffected when participants were under the heat-only lamps.

Ever find yourself a little down in the winter time? It's not just your mood that's affected by the season — it's also your heart health. As temperatures drop, blood pressure levels tend to increase, so you might want to reconsider that mid-February vacation to a warmer locale.

For those who already high blood pressure, sunbathing won't be enough to cure your health woes. Doctors still recommend controlling hypertension with medication, but a little sunshine never hurt.

Exercise a bit of caution though, and remember to use sunscreen.

Image: Ashley Batz/Bustle