We live in an age of essential oils, supplements, and health trends. It can be hard to determine what’s good science and what’s junk science. One thing we do now for sure, though, is that vitamin D is important. We aren’t sure exactly why, however, because there are limited studies, but as time goes on, we’re learning more about how this vitamin affects humans. One new study indicates it could impact a person’s fitness level.
Released in October 2018, the study examined cardiorespiratory fitness, which measures how efficient the heart and lungs are at giving oxygen to your muscles during workouts. The higher your cardiorespiratory fitness, the greater your ability to exercise harder and longer. The study looked at around 2,000 adults (20-49 years old, both men and women) who took a treadmill test, and compared their cardiorespiratory fitness with their vitamin D levels. The results? Those with higher vitamin D levels had better cardiorespiratory fitness. In fact, with each 10-point increase in vitamin D, the person’s cardiorespiratory fitness measurement went up by 0.78 points.
There are a lot of other factors at play, so researchers looked at the participants’ age, sex, race, health history, and more. However, even after those adjustments, those with the highest vitamin D levels enjoyed better cardiorespiratory fitness levels. It even applied to those who smoked, had diabetes, or hypertension. This study provides strong evidence that vitamin D affects the body’s ability to get oxygen to muscles during exercise. If your vitamin D levels are good, you’re more likely to be in good shape.
This isn’t really a surprise. Older studies show the power of increasing vitamin D when you’re deficient – ballerinas were able to jump higher when they got their levels to a healthy level, while runners sprinted faster. This could be because vitamin D increases the production of muscle protein while also reducing inflammation and joint pain. Heart muscle cells contain vitamin-D receptors, allowing the vitamin to bind. A person with healthier vitamin D levels could build muscle faster and work out longer free from pain, which in turn increases their cardiorespiratory health.
Like all observational studies, this new one doesn’t represent the final word on vitamin D’s impact. However, there are still a lot of benefits like better calcium absorption and energy, though doctors aren’t actually sure what the ideal dose of vitamin D is. You can actually take too much and cause harm, though again, research isn’t clear on what that amount is. In general, just aim for “normal.” You’d probably have to intentionally take too much to overdose, since most people are deficient.
If you want to get your vitamin D levels up, first try getting outside in the sun more. Just 10-15 minutes of sunshine every other day is good enough, and you should still always wear sunscreen. In terms of food, fish is a really good source, especially cod liver oil, salmon, and tuna. You can also get foods that have been fortified with vitamin D, like fortified orange juice and cereal. If your levels are especially low, your doctor will most likely prescribe a supplement, and you’ll get enough from that.
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