It may come as a surprise, but exercising and sunbathing have a lot in common. In this post we’ll explain the similarities, and also why it’s important that you don’t be a “guiri gamba” in the gym!

[A “guiri” is more or less the Spanish equivalent of “gringo”, usually used to refer to tourists or expats from Northern Europe with pale skin and fair hair. Gamba means prawn. A “guiri gamba” is a normally pasty skinned tourist who has spent too much time in the strong Spanish sun and turned bright rid like a prawn!]

1. Both Exercise and Sun Exposure are Very Important for Health

We evolved as Hunter-Gatherers – highly active searching for food on a daily basis in the great outdoors. Our bodies still need this daily dose of movement and UV radiation to stay healthy.

2. Sola dosis facit venenum – The dose makes the poison

Though both are essential, you can have too much of a good thing.

Too much sun and you will get burned. Sunburn is not only painful and unsightly, but can also lead to cancerous sarcomas – Don’t be a lobster!

Too much exercise can lead to overtraining, resulting in an impaired immune system, fatigue, low mood and increased injury risk.

3. We are Antifragile

Antifragile was a term coined by Nassim Taleb to describe the way in which humans are able to adapt to repeated exposures to ever increasing stressors.

Hormesis refers to the manner in which a moderate dose of UV radiation not only helps the body produce Vitamin D, but also stimulates the production of melatonin, which makes the skin darker, and more resistant to burning. With more melatonin, the next time you go out in the Sun you can take more UV and for longer.

The process by which your body increases in strength and endurance in response to exercise is very similar – a moderate dose of exercise will produce adaptations in your body that will enable you to handle more next time.

4. How much hormesis can you handle?

In theory there is an optimum dose of exercise, and an optimum dose of UV that will produce the greatest adaptations in the shortest amount of time.

Who doesn’t want to get lean and tanned as fast as possible?

The problem is, it’s a very fine line and it’s hard to know exactly where that line is.

It’s therefore very easy to get yourself burned – Remember, don’t be a guiri gamba!

5. Genetics play a huge role in your tolerance

People that naturally have lots of melatonin (i.e. darker skin) can spend much more time in the Sun without burning than lighter skinned people.

Equally, some people can handle much longer and harder workouts before they are at risk of overtraining.

Even taking your genetics into account, it’s still hard to put an exact figure on how much of a good thing you can handle due to varying external factors.

Sun time: Are there low ozone levels today? Are you at altitude? How’s the cloud cover? Is there a deceptive cool breeze?

Gym time: How did you sleep? How much stress are you under? How’s your diet been?

After a stressful week, a grueling workout might be just enough to tip you over the edge…

6. Genetics Play A Huge Role in Your Limits

If you are from a Northern latitude with very pale skin, even if you perfectly optimise your peak level of sun exposure everyday for the rest of your life, you will never get as dark as someone with a genetic heritage from close to the Equator.

Just as we all have different limits with regards to skin tone, we also have limits with regards to building muscle and increasing endurance.

Everyone can get stronger, fitter, and more athletic, but not everyone can build huge muscles, get super low body fat, or reach Olympic levels of performance.

7. Health vs Hollywood

The good news is that optimum health can be achieved a lot easier and faster than a “perfect body” – whatever that is.

A regular moderate dose of sun and exercise way below the borderline is sufficient to keep you fit and well, and maximise your chances of a long, active life.

A slim and lightly tanned body could well be much healthier than a sculpted bronzed one that’s spent too much time close to the edge of the danger zone.

8. The Tortoise and the Hare

Point 7 is not to say that you can’t or shan’t ever reach your genetic potential, only that you should be patient.

The classic beach holiday mistake is to overdo it on the first day and get an embarrassing bright red sunburn. Because of the sunburn, you can’t go back to the beach and end up going home as pasty white as when you arrived.

People make the same mistake in the gym – overtrain trying to get that six pack in six weeks, give up exhausted and demotivated, ending up back where they started.

The better solution is to remember that there is no rush. Take your time. Don’t try to optimise for rapid results, take the long view. It’s better to do a short, but effective exercise routine regularly, than going all out on a crazy workout but then not returning for a month.

Health first and foremost, don’t get burned, and with patience and perseverance you can gradually reach your genetic potential.

As they say here in Barcelona – Don’t be a Guiri Gamba!

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