Vitamin D and exercise can do wonders for your heart

When it comes to the many benefits of the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, cardiovascular health now makes the list too.

Vitamin D. It’s known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s largely produced by our skin when we’re exposed to sunlight.

It’s also critical for bone and teeth development, helping our bodies absorb calcium.

Now it seems you can add heart health to the long list of things vitamin D is good for.

New research by John Hopkins University in the US has found people who get enough of this vitamin and are also physically active have fewer heart attacks and strokes, with research also suggesting exercise itself may play a role in boosting levels of the vitamin in our blood.

Erin Michos, Associate Professor of Medicine at John Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, says it is proof for what many have instinctively known – we need to move more if we’re going to have a happy heart.

“Our study of more than 10,000 people found vitamin D and exercise working together seem to do better than either on their own in protecting the cardiovascular system and reducing the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes,” Associate Professor Michos says.

“The team found active participants with the highest levels of the D vitamin had about a 23 per cent less chance of an adverse cardiac event.

“We also found exercise levels positively and directly corresponded to levels of this vitamin. The more a person exercised, the higher their vitamin D seemed to be, and participants who met recommended exercise levels had a 31 per cent lower risk of vitamin D deficiency.”

That’s a very good reason to hit the running track, walk in the park or take the dog to the beach to breathe in some fresh air and soak up the sunshine.

And don’t forget your sunscreen (prevailing studies show people who use sunscreen daily still maintain their vitamin D levels).

Why we need vitamin D in our diet

Vitamin D aids the body with absorbing calcium and promotes bone growth.

Insufficient vitamin D is related to many health concerns including:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression
  • Cancer and immune function
  • Heart attacks and strokes

How much vitamin D you need

Most Australians get their main source of vitamin D from sunlight as it’s produced when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) light from the sun.

However when it’s overcast or during winter months, many Australians won’t have adequate vitamin D levels.

If you’re taking a supplement to top up your levels, Associate Professor Michos says it’s best to stick to the recommended daily amount – 600-800 International Units, or 10-20mcg – unless you have consulted your health professional.

Dietary sources of Vitamin D

Dietary sources of vitamin D

As well as sunlight, vitamin D is also found in small amounts in:

  • Fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel and salmon
  • Dairy products, including cheese
  • Egg yolk
  • Some brands of orange juice

Note: It is important not to self-diagnose vitamin deficiency – if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult your healthcare practitioner.