A study published in Sports Health found that over one-third of elite, Division I college athletes may have low levels of vitamin D. Among its roles, this crucial vitamin helps your body absorb calcium, maintain bone mass, ameliorate musculoskeletal pain and reduce injury risk. Researchers noted that while athletes were especially vulnerable, up to one billion people globally have insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels.
So how do you know whether you have optimal D levels? The only way to know for sure is to have a blood test, with levels between 50-80 ng/ml for optimal health.
Balance becomes key here. “Because vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin,” writes Dr. Joel Kahn, “it will remain in the body for long periods of time if given in excess. Vitamin D overdosing may cause high blood calcium levels, leading to poor appetite, nausea and vomiting. Kidney stones are a risk.”
While everyone benefits from optimal D levels, the aforementioned Sports Health study showed athletes become especially vulnerable to deficiencies. Whether you play sports, lift heavy or just participate as a weekend warrior, here are five reasons maintaining optimal D levels become crucial:
Studies show vigorous exercise can take a hit on your immune system, especially if you’re a distance runner or otherwise engage in strenuous workouts. That’s where optimal vitamin D levels can help. Not only does vitamin D help maintain healthy bones, it also "stimulates your immune system to produce factors called defensing and cathelicidins that kill viruses.” No wonder cold and flu season occurs when days are shortest!
2. Brain function
Studies show exercise improves cognitive function and reduce free-radical damage to your brain. Optimal vitamin D levels can amplify that brain boost and possibly reduce your risk for degenerative disease. One study found older people who don’t get sufficient vitamin D have a higher risk for dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
The numerous active 70- and 80-something folks in my gym prove regular workouts keep you young and vigorous. Exercise coupled with optimal D levels provides a one-two punch against the effects of aging. Because vitamin D is responsible for so many genetic pathways in the human body, deficiencies are linked to chronic disease while optimal levels are linked to an actual preservation of telomeres.
Among its roles as an anabolic hormone, studies show testosterone contributes to optimal muscle mass and synthesis. Vitamin D plays a key role in optimizing testosterone levels. One study found exercising for 10 hours weekly increased testosterone while reducing body mass index (BMI) in females. Another linked low testosterone in women to atherosclerosis and obesity.
Chronic inflammation becomes every athlete’s worst enemy, leading to soreness, fatigue and other issues that cramp your game. Studies show consistent exercise reduces inflammation. Working out coupled with an anti-inflammatory diet becomes a powerful way to reverse this disease that, To further reduce inflammation, make sure to get your vitamin D levels checked and maintain optimal levels.
Sufficient sunlight, supplementing, and eating vitamin-D rich foods like wild-caught salmon provide the best ways to get this crucial nutrient.