Running in the sun might be unavoidable at certain times of year, but it’s important to understand both the dangers and advantages that come with doing so. While a sunny day certainly shouldn’t be reason to reschedule your run, you’ll want to be sure you are safe when exposed.
Is it okay to run in the sun?
Many runners head out for a run in the sun without thinking twice. And in most circumstances, it’s perfectly safe and healthy to continue running in the sun.
However, as mileage increases and your time in the sun lengthens, it’s important to prepare both your body and mind for the run.
Running in the sun for short periods of time provides your skin with a boost of the UV rays required to produce Vitamin D, an essential nutrient. Running in sun for longer periods of time is still safe, but it’s important to protect your skin from extended exposure to those harmful UV rays.
Why is running in the sun harder?
It often feels like a run in the sun is significantly harder than the same run completed on a cloudy day. Most people enjoy being outside on sunny days, and while running in sun might feel refreshing at the beginning, it often winds up feeling much harder by the end.
Running in sunny weather presents a few challenges. The most common reason that running in the sun feels harder is because that sunshine is usually accompanied by hot weather. Running in the heat requires the body to exert more energy, therefore making your usual pace feel significantly more difficult to maintain.
The sun also can make it more difficult to see, especially without sunglasses, and can even make exposed skin feel more sensitive.
Dangers of Running in the Sun
While a bit of sun exposure each day is actually a good thing, running in the sun can sometimes put runners at risk for the dangers of the sun.
If you’re training for a distance race, it’s likely that your long runs might require at least an hour (if not much more) of your time to complete. When the temperature is high and you’re wearing shorts and a tshirt, more of your skin is exposed for the duration of your run.
This lengthy period of exposure to direct sunlight could become a bit dangerous without proper precautions.
Increased Risk of Sun Cancers
The sun produces a few different types of UV rays, with the two most prominent being UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are the type that cause premature aging or sunspots, and UVB rays are the type that cause sun burn or sun cancers.
While UVA rays make up about 95% of the rays that reach the Earth, UVB rays are still present during every exposure to the sun. Extended exposure to the sun without protection, such as running for long periods of time without sunblock, can increase your risk of sun cancers such as melanoma.
Skin Becomes More Susceptible to Damage
In addition to more extended exposure to direct sunlight, a study published in JAMA Dermatology found that long distance runners are slightly more at risk for developing abnormal moles which can lead to malignant melanoma.
Running for long periods of time actually suppresses the immune system, meaning that your defense is weakened during and immediately after the periods of time during which you are exposed to direct sunlight.
While the sun poses a few significant threats to our skin, it’s important to remember that we can take measures to protect ourselves from danger – and that those precautions do work.
Advantages of Running in the Sun
Running in sun sets us up for direct exposure to UV rays – and while this can be dangerous without protection, it also provides a few benefits.
Helps Produce Vitamin D
Heading out for a run in the sun on a regular basis provides your skin with the sunlight it needs to create Vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient, as it is required by the body to absorb calcium. What makes this vitamin different than others is that it is not found naturally in foods.
In order to meet your vitamin D needs, you need to either supplement – or head out in the sun.
Activates Nitric Acid
In addition to supporting the production of vitamin D, exposure to sunlight also helps activate nitric acid in the body. Sunlight actually activates nitric acid compounds in the skin, which are then released into your blood stream.
Nitric acid then dilates blood vessels, helping reduce blood pressure. It has also been shown to increase blood flow, which has a promising effect on runners. The increased blood flow means that your muscles receive oxygen at a faster rate, which could potentially have a positive impact on your running performance and speed.
Although the dangers of running in the sun can be serious, they can be reduced and even avoided with proper precautions. Completing a run in the sun might not be avoidable during training, but here are a few ways to stay safe and cool – even on the sunniest days.
4 Tips to Safely Run in the Sun
Even when exposed to UV rays for an extended period of time, it is still possible to safely continue running in the sun. Here are four easy ways to stay safe and healthy during your runs in the sunshine.
Wear sunblock – even for short runs
UV rays can reach your skin even on the cloudiest of days. Running in the sun can be dangerous, even for short runs, if you don’t protect your skin.
It is a good idea to get into the habit of wearing sunscreen for every run. Whether it’s summer or winter, cloudy or sunny, protecting your skin is always a good choice. However, when you’re planning to run in the sun – especially while wearing shorts or tshirts – you should absolutely lather up before heading out.
Invest in running sunglasses
Your skin isn’t the only thing that can be damaged while running in the sun. Sunlight can hurt your eyes and make things incredibly uncomfortable, especially for those with lighter eye colors. Running sunglasses are a great way to make your eyes more comfortable and help you look around with ease.
Luckily, running sunglasses don’t cost much. You can find high quality sunglasses designed specifically for runners for under $40. Try wearing a pair for your next run in the sun to protect your eyes and keep your vision clear.
Related: The Best Sunglasses for Runners in 2021
Stay hydrated before, during and after
Running in the sun can quickly heat things up, causing you to sweat and lose more water than you would on a cloudy day. This makes staying hydrated especially important on a sunny day.
The key to hydration is making sure you are hydrated before, during and after your run. Start drinking water from the moment you wake up, bring a water bottle with you during your run (even if it’s short), and continue to rehydrate once your return.
A helpful guideline to ensure you stay hydrated is to make sure you drink 1 ounce of water for every minute you are active. For a 45 minute run, you’ll want to consume an extra 45 ounces of water throughout the day.
Protect your face with a visor or hat
Your face is exposed to the sun nearly every time you step outside, whether you’re going running or not. When you plan to run in the sun, wearing a hat or visor can help keep your face shaded to avoid any more UV exposure than necessary.
In addition, a visor helps keep the sun off your face which in turn cools your body and helps avoid squinting. Visors are a great choice for runners as they still allow the breeze to reach your head, but protect your eyes and face from sunshine.
Running in the sun might feel harder, but the sunshine provides a healthy boost of vitamin D and serves as a great way to break up the day. In addition, you’ll feel accomplished after each sweaty run in the sun.
Protecting your skin and eyes will help you stay safe and avoid any harmful damage from UV rays, so you can continue running in the sun throughout training.