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Too Much Time In The Sun Can Impair Motor-Cognitive Functioning

Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager By Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Direct exposure of the head to solar heat radiation impairs motor-cognitive performance

Image by Tino Renato / Death to the Stock Photo

Whether you're outside gardening, biking, or going for a jog, spending time outdoors is generally more enjoyable when the sun is shining. But, as painful sunburns may have revealed, more is not always better. According to a recent study, published in Scientific Reports, direct sun exposure on the top of the head has implications beyond just sunburn—it may also impair motor-cognitive performance. 

The small study was conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, who found prolonged exposure to solar heat radiation (primarily on the head) interfered with participants' abilities to engage in complex tasks. 

What did the researchers find?

The study featured eight healthy male participants between 27 and 41 years old, who underwent motor-cognitive testing three times in three separate settings: room temperature, acute heat exposure (15 minutes), and prolonged exposure (about two hours). Heat radiation was directed on the back, side, and top of each participants' head, as well as the lower body. 

When the temperature of the head reached 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit, the participants' motor-cognitive skills began to decline, lead author of the study Lars Nybo, Ph.D., says in a news release, while heat on the lower body did not seem to take a toll on motor-cognition.


Who does this affect?

The study is specifically important for anyone who works outside, like in agriculture or construction. Prolonged exposure to sun radiation, especially on the head, may lead to work-related injuries or accidents due to impaired cognitive and motor functioning.

It may also be applicable to people who willingly spend prolonged periods of time outdoors, through activities such as gardening or playing sports. 

"In terms of ecological outdoor settings, the present study is highly relevant for the billions of people living in areas with permanent or seasonal heat stress," the study says. This includes high levels of solar radiation, which the study says are "not currently accounted for in weather analyses based on climate service data."

Bottom line.

Whether you're spending hours in the sun for work or for play, consider taking breaks inside every so often to prevent potential injuries. As always, it's also important to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen in these settings, as well.

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