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No Sunshine in December: Check Your Vitamin D and Save Your Muscles

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If you are like my family it is the end of another busy day during winter break and as the holidays bring everyone together it usually means lots of food. The weather outside is too cold or too snowy for a walk so dusting off the treadmill in the basement or turning on the Wii to tryout the new dance video is what we have been doing to burn off holiday calories. To help build muscles I also have a weight machine, kettle bells and a large exercise ball for Pilates moves.

As I explain to patients during nutrition counseling sessions, maintaining and building muscles can be more important an activity than keeping a proper weight for height ratio. In fact, you start to lose muscle mass as you age resulting in not feeling quite like you used to in small and subtle ways. Your balance and strength may begin to lessen as you go about your daily routine. Lifting heavy objects may be more difficult or climbing a flight of stairs without getting out of breath might occur sooner than it should if you were in better overall physical shape. You do not need to be a senior citizen to lose muscle mass it happens at any age if you do not work on strength training to stay strong.

The winter months add an extra hardship due to the reduced amount of sunshine available in most areas of North America. Vitamin D otherwise known as “The Sunshine Vitamin” cannot be made in the body in adequate amounts if the chemical reaction produced by the sun reaching the skin does not happen. In a scientific study it was found that 50% of the population of the world has a Vitamin D deficiency. Recently, two team physicians from the Florida Panthers realized that some of their athletes were not healing properly from muscle injuries and on a chance, tested them for Vitamin D deficiency, where it was found that they were indeed Vitamin D deficient. When Vitamin D supplementation was added and the tested athletes levels were back to normal, proper healing of subsequent injuries was achieved. These physicians were able to detect a cause and affect between normal Vitamin D blood levels and muscle injury healing. Another indication of just how important Vitamin D is to our health.

To find out whether you have a deficiency in Vitamin D you must ask for a separate blood test. It is not included in the usual panel of blood tests requested by physicians when you go for your annual exam. Most people are normal and so it is a one-time test and is no big deal. However, if you find out, like I did, that you are low in Vitamin D and need to supplement then you feel like a million bucks or saved a million bucks by avoiding all the damage caused by an insufficiency. What damage you ask?

Vitamin D must be synthesized by the body to the active form Vitamin D3. In this form it helps absorb Calcium and Phosphorus which is why it is often added to milk products. You can find a supplement in the form of Vitamin D3 and, of course, Salmon and Mackerel are good food sources of Vitamin D3. These seafood sources are also good sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids which help in inflammation control. Inflammation and its relationship to diseases such as cancers, diabetes and heart disease are just some of the many ways Vitamin D has been studied to help keep the body healthy and strong. Finally, as always, along with proper diet adding exercise, at least 150 minutes per week, with the addition of strength training, at least once or twice per week, is part of the secret for keeping the healthy lifestyle you enjoy.

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