For those on the fence as to whether or not they want to make a warm weather escape this winter, it may be worth pondering the physical fitness ramifications, along with the desire to boost mental health through some leisure excursion like a beach vacation.

While the human experience bears conspicuous witness to the pleasant feeling that follows a hearty exposure to sunlight, especially during the dog days of the year’s early months, new research indicates there may be additional benefits to basking in the sunshine.

Higher levels of Vitamin D were linked to better exercise in a new study, according to a recent press release from the European Society of Cardiology.

“Our study shows that higher levels of vitamin D are associated with better exercise capacity,” said Dr. Amr Marawan, assistant professor of internal medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia, US. “We also know from previous research that vitamin D has positive effects on the heart and bones. Make sure your vitamin D levels are normal to high. You can do this with diet, supplements, and a sensible amount of sun exposure.”

It is well established that vitamin D is important for healthy bones, but there is increasing evidence that it plays a role in other areas of the body including the heart and muscles.

Cardiorespiratory fitness, a reliable surrogate for physical fitness, is the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the muscles during exercise. It is best measured as the maximal oxygen consumption during exercise, referred to as VO2 max. People with higher cardiorespiratory fitness are healthier and live longer.

This study investigated whether people with higher levels of vitamin D in the blood have improved cardiorespiratory fitness. The study was conducted in a representative sample of the US population aged 20-49 years using the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) in 2001-2004. Data was collected on serum vitamin D and VO2 max. Participants were divided into quartiles of vitamin D levels. … 

Dr. Marawan noted that this was an observational study and it cannot be concluded that vitamin D improves exercise capacity. But he added: “The association was strong, incremental, and consistent across groups. This suggests that there is a robust connection and provides further impetus for having adequate vitamin D levels, which is particularly challenging in cold, cloudy places where people are less exposed to the sun.”

All the “snowbirds” currently down in Florida likely let out a knowing smirk upon reading the study’s results. While not everyone can afford to flee the colder temperatures and diminished sunshine each year, it seems catching a few rays might be worth the inconvenience.

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