A new study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology has found that higher levels of vitamin D are associated with a better capacity for exercise. Carried out by researchers in the United States, the study sought to examine the link between vitamin D and cardiorespiratory fitness. Based on a total of 1995 participants, the results demonstrate what the researchers describe as “an independent and robust association” between serum vitamin D levels and the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the muscles during exercise.
The study was conducted using data taken from the United States National Health and Nutrition Survey (2001-2004). The participants examined were aged between 20 and 49 years old. Chosen to be representative of the U.S. population, 45.2 percent of them were women; 49.1 percent were white; 13 percent had high blood pressure; and 4 percent had diabetes.
Participants with the highest levels of vitamin D were found to have a significantly better exercise capacity than those with the lowest levels. This remained the case even after adjusting for other factors that could potentially have influenced the results. Such factors included age, sex, race, body mass index, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and others.
Notably, each 10 nmol/L increase in the level of vitamin D in the blood was associated with a statistically significant increase in the maximum amount of oxygen that the body could use during exercise. Known as ‘VO2 max’, this measurement was determined by the study participants undergoing an exercise test on a treadmill. Given that a higher level of cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with a lower risk of death not just from cardiovascular disease, but also from any other cause, this was clearly an important finding.
For some years now there has been increasing interest in the role that vitamin D can play in improving exercise performance. In a pilot study we reported on in 2015, for example, researchers from Scotland showed that volunteers given vitamin D supplements for a period of 2 weeks were able to cycle for longer with less exertion than those given placebo pills. Those supplementing with vitamin D were also found to have lower blood pressure, as well as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their urine.
But while vitamin D evidently seems to play a role in improving the human body’s capacity for exercise, it is certainly not the only factor. As we have pointed out previously in one of the Research Institute articles on our website, the increased heart rate that occurs during any form of exercise requires a tremendous amount of energy. Micronutrients such as carnitine, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, and the B group of vitamins are all essential for producing the necessary energy in heart muscle cells for sustained physical endurance.
The key, therefore – and this applies both to professional athletes and to those of us who exercise simply to keep fit – is ensuring that your supplementation program is designed according to the scientific principle of nutrient synergy. As safe as micronutrients are, taking haphazard combinations of them can create or aggravate imbalances of other nutrients in the body. But by ensuring the combinations in your supplementation program are carefully chosen and properly balanced, you will maximize the efficiency of each individual nutrient and eliminate the need for so-called ‘mega-doses’. While you will still probably never run as fast as Usain Bolt – who, interestingly, is reported to regularly supplement with vitamin C – you should find you are able to exercise for longer, feel less tired, and be less likely to get injured. On your marks, get set, Go!