Putting clocks back damages our health, says expert

Children running about outside
Image caption More evening daylight could help children do the recommended daily hour of exercise in winter

Not putting the clocks back this weekend would help people exercise more and stay healthier, says an expert.

Dr Mayer Hillman, a public policy specialist at the Policy Studies Institute wants the UK to keep British Summer Time in winter.

In the British Medical Journal, Dr Hillman suggests being two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time in spring, giving more chance to exercise outside.

But psychologist Dr David Lewis said it was a finely-balanced argument.

Dr Hillman, senior fellow emeritus at PSI, is concerned by surveys that show a trend towards declining fitness and predictions that more than half the population will be clinically obese by 2050.

He proposes not putting the clocks back in October in one year, but still putting clocks forward in the subsequent spring.

This would put the UK one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time in the winter and two hours ahead in summer, known as Single/Double Summer Time, adopting the same time as France, Germany and Spain.

Dr Hillman says that the extra hour of evening daylight would give everyone more opportunities to be active outdoors, and help us become fitter and healthier.

"The common reaction to the prospect of less daylight and sunlight when the clocks are put back at the end of October - signalling as it does the end of outdoor activity and the onset of a largely indoor leisure life - is a negative one," Dr Hillman writes.

"The additional hours of daylight would considerably increase opportunities for outdoor leisure activities: about 300 more for adults and 200 more for children each year, given typical daily patterns of activity."

Seasonal change

Physical exercise has been shown to improve cardio-vascular health, reducing the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and some cancers.

Research also shows that people feel happier and more energetic during the longer, brighter days of summer.

During the shorter, duller days of winter, however, mood tends to decline.

Dr Hillman concludes: "Adopting this proposal for a clock change is an effective, practical, and remarkably easily managed way to better align our waking hours with the available daylight during the year."

British Summer Time was established in 1916 to give farmers more daylight hours to work in their fields.

Scottish farmers, particularly, have always been opposed to changing the current set-up because they would have to deal with an extended period of morning darkness.

Dr David Lewis, a chartered psychologist who has done research into the effect of sunshine on our well-being, says there are arguments for both sides.

"If people can be persuaded to get out more and exercise after school and work, they are more likely to do it if it's light, than if it's dark."

"But there is a danger that people leaving for work in the morning don't really wake up properly if it's not light."

Dr Lewis agrees that anything that gives people the opportunity to exercise more is a good idea.

"As people get older, they should maintain a certain level of physical health. The costs of obesity to society are great and growing."

Exercising during daylight is "more likely to elevate mood, improve sense of well-being and help people get to sleep", he says.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "It is recommended that adults do 30 minutes of exercise five times a week and children do 60 minutes each day.

"There are lots of activities to do in the winter, like swimming, dance, using the gym, or taking up an indoor sport. People can still do exercise outdoors like taking a walk or riding a bike with lights."

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