Women who spend more time in the sun may be biologically younger and age more slowly than the rest of their age group, a study has found.

Researchers from King’s College London have discovered that women who have higher levels of vitamin D, which enters the body through sunshine, certain foods and nutritional supplementation tend to show signs of being “biologically younger” and healthier than others.

Lead researcher Brent Richards said that the study of 2,160 women aged between 18 and 79 showed that sunshine also could have an effect on age-related illnesses, such as heart disease.

Click here to see the study abstract (subscription required for full study)

"These results are exciting because they demonstrate for the first time that people who have higher levels of vitamin D may age more slowly than people with lower levels of vitamin D,” Richards said. “This could help to explain how vitamin D has a proactive effect on many aging related diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.”

But co-author Tim Spector said that people should not think that being out in the sun all the time was healthy.

“Although it might sound absurd, it’s possible that the same sunshine which may increase our risk of skin cancer may also have a healthy effect on the aging process in general,” Spector said.

The results of the higher serum vitamin D concentrations are associated with longer leukocyte telomer length in women. For the study, researchers measured the women’s telomeres, which were a sign of biological aging.

As people age, telomeres become shorter. But the scientists found that women with higher vitamin D levels tend to have longer telomeres.

The study was published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.