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Recent studies show vitamin D can help in fitness

Posted on: April 16, 2011   by  John Cannell, MD


Question: True or False?

Recent studies show vitamin D can help take the place of exercise


Answer: True.

But the extent is unclear; vitamin D may be the pill couch potatoes have been waiting for. I have always wondered why humans appear to be the only mammal that has to deliberately exercise to stay in shape. I never see a rabbit, outside his warren, doing 100-meter dashes. I never see a deer running the high hurdles to stay in shape. The only time I see these mammals exercising hard is when they run for their lives because a predator is chasing them. So how do they stay in shape without going to the gym?

Dr. Afrooz Ardestani, of the Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, may have supplied that answer. The authors took 200 normal men and women and measured two things, their vitamin D level and their fitness.

Ardestani A, Parker B, Mathur S, Clarkson P, Pescatello LS, Hoffman HJ, Polk DM, Thompson PD. Relation of Vitamin D Level to Maximal Oxygen Uptake in Adults. Am J Cardiol. 2011 Feb 22.

Dr. Ardestani’s findings should interest everyone, not just exercise nuts; in fact, couch potatoes have a wonderful reason to be interested. It turns out that the higher your 25(OH)D, the better shape you are in, after strict control for numerous confounders, including the obvious explanation that people in great shape are outside exercising more often and thus have higher levels. After controlling for everything they could, the authors found significant associations (.01) between vitamin D and fitness. Surprisingly, the highest correlation (the biggest effect) was in couch potatoes (0.0001). Couch potatoes with a level of 60 ng/ml were much fitter than were coach potatoes with a level of 20 ng/ml. Yes, it appears you can help stay in shape by simply taking a pill!

Lest we forget, Dr. Ardestani expanded and replicated the work of Dr. Debra Mowry and colleagues at the University of Nebraska, who found almost identical data studying 59 young women, who had vitamin D levels between 10 and 60 ng/ml. Dr. Mowry’s data showed a straight line positive association with vitamin D levels and cardiorespiratory fitness, from 20 to 60ng/ml. No U-shaped curve for either Dr. Ardestani or Dr. Mowry.

Mowry DA, Costello MM, Heelan KA. Association among cardiorespiratory fitness, body fat, and bone marker measurements in healthy young females. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2009 Oct;109(10):534-9.

Actually, these two groups are simply rediscovering what the Germans and Russians discovered in the 1950s: vitamin D improves physical performance. The East Germans and Russians dominated the Olympics for 25 years after making these discoveries.

In July, my book on the subject should be available, thanks to one of the oldest and truest friends of the Vitamin D Council, Mr. Bill Sardi.


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