SCOTS should spend more time basking in the sun to boost their life expectancy, according to a top dermatologist.
Richard Weller, from Edinburgh University, claims that government advice to cover up after 10-15 minutes of exposure could be damaging to health.
Ministers advise that up to 15 minutes of exposure is safe and a good way to get vitamin D, important for growing healthy bones.
However, Weller said that the time limit is based on far sunnier countries – and it is preventing Scots from a benefit that could add years to their lives.
In a new paper for the journal Blood Purification, the doctor presents evidence that exposure to sunlight dilates blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and increases lifespans.
He argues that it cuts the risk of heart attacks and strokes, which are among Scotland’s biggest killers, and are far more likely to cause death than skin cancer.
Weller’s position,which echoes research by other dermatologists, could explain why the blood pressure of people in Britain tends to be lower in the summer than in the winter.
It could also help understand why people who live close to the equator have lower blood pressure than those in higher latitudes.
Weller, who is also an Honorary NHS consultant, cites evidence from studies of regular sunbathers, including one involving 30,000 women in Sweden which has similar latitude to Scotland.
He indicated that the more they had sunbathed, the more likely they were to be alive 20 years later.
Even more, those who sunbathed most were twice as likely to still be alive as those who had avoided the sun completely.
The current recommended time limit for Scots is based on a study in Australia, which received more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year.
The sunniest parts of Scotland receive half that amount.
“I mean, this is Scotland for God’s sake,” Weller said. “These health messages come from Australia. They are completely inappropriate for Scotland.
“The greatest problem we have with health is lack of exercise and obesity, and banging people up inside is not encouraging healthy behaviour, which is running around doing exercise.”
He added that the irrational fear of the sun in Scotland meant that nursery children could be banned from venturing outdoors as health messages were misinterpreted.
A spokesman for Cancer Research UK issued a cautious response to his claims.
They said: “It’s well established that we all need some sun to help us make vitamin D, but there isn’t yet any clear evidence overall for other direct benefits of sunlight exposure.”
Warning of the risk of DNA damage and skin cancer, the Scottish government said it recommended avoiding strong sunlight whenever possible and covering up with loose clothing and a hat.