I’m in Los Angeles visiting colleges, brother, and friends, with my youngest daughter. We looked at 3.25 colleges – hard to count USC as a full look as she summarily discounted its prospects upon departing the parking garage. Otherwise, the three small colleges got a good look-see and the pleasant sunny weather here is clearly a draw.
As I sit outside by the hotel pool, catching some early morning rays, escaping the cool of the building-induced shadows, I feel compelled to reflect on sunshine, its benefits and its dangers.
First, its benefits: tans (done safely, sure look healthy), warmth (done safely, or out of necessity as during the cold winter months, is comforting), light (esp for aging eyes, it helps you read better; but even for non-aging eyes, a welcome introduction to the day unless one’s been partying far too hard and long), and finally, vitamin D, on which I’ve written before and will write again, I’m sure.
Now, it’s dangers: sunburn and potential severe burns, excessive exposure and increased skin cancer risk, and heat (too much of which can lead to heat related injuries).
For the most part, tho, sun is to be appreciated and respected, like almost anything else in life. Feared – now that’s taking caution a bit too far.
I do not intend to play statistician or medical historian. However, I cannot but help question the real risks we humans have determined when it comes to such things as cancer and neuro-degenerative diseases; even heart disease is questionable in the following light: we humans are living longer than our predecessors under much more coddled childhoods, making us weaker and, over time, more susceptible to diseases that may or may not be solely due to our exposures to various risks. Let’s start at birth.
Many modern humans get inoculated against a variety of diseases that dramatically increase our prospects for survival. I just read that 10% of kids born in sudan die before the age of 5 – my guess is that that’s closer to the historical norm of mankind in the wild, or even pre-20th century. Furthermore many of us had exposure to health care beyond the dreams and fantasies of our forefathers whereby medicines and procedures further expanded our opportunities for survival success. Finally, our mothers – many of whom died in childbirth pre-1850s – used to give birth to several children knowing full well some would die young, as would they themselves. As such, with more mothers successfully birthing more kids who will live, we have in effect ‘weakened’ the stock of humanity to where people who otherwise would not be alive are birthing others who otherwise would not have been able to survive. we have essentially produced a flood of humanity incapable of withstanding the rigors of nature without the crutch of modern medicine. hence, natural assaults upon our bodies – air, sun, water, pathogens of all sorts – now get blamed for making us sick or even killing us.
I’m a fan of america’s founding fathers. to think that ben franklin and john adams, two who were sedentary by comparison to the george washingtons in the crowd, and who were portly by comparison to their peers, lived into their late 70s, early 80s, suggests that, by themselves, excess wt and sedentary lifestyles alone are not dangerous. rather, some are hardy despite the savage medical practices of their times and the various exigencies of lifestyle – both crossed the atlantic several times as well as traveled the rough ‘roads’ of the colonies through all kinds of weather conditions – no heat or air conditioning!!! – and thrived. Granted, they were way more active than we of modernity, even in their feebleness and sedentariness. Cardiovascular fitness is relative and I’m sure they would not be categorized as fit by modern metrics; just fitter than our norms when you factor in the 67% who are obese and sedentary.
My guess is that those strong enough constitutionally to make it to adulthood and to procreate to the extent that some of their offspring survived to do likewise were constitutionally ‘blessed’ to pass on strong genes. These genes were either resistant to many of the diseases we currently consider rampant or epidemic or endemic; or the effects of sunshine, dirty water, and the many air- and water-borne pathogens simply were not as dangerous as they once were. Somehow I don’t buy the latter. I suspect, and maintain, that the human gene pool is weaker and getting weaker the more we expose it to such protective measures as modern medicine and some health nuts propose. Of course, to allow nature to take its course is a crude and inhumane response to my thesis. In fact, I or my loved ones very likely would be non-survivors if not for modern medicine and lifestyles. Nonetheless, let me state right here and now that we should not be throwing caution to the wind, esp when it comes to known risk factors like diet, activity, cleanliness, and sunshine, but we also should not be so paranoiac as to hide from the pleasures of nature nor modernity.
I suppose it all comes down to moderation. Aristotle wins again.