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Both exercise and adequate vitamin D have been identified independently as contributing to good cardiovascular health. But could the combination offer special advantages against heart disease?

How Do Vitamin D and Exercise Act Against Heart Disease?

Researchers evaluating 20 years of data from the 10,342 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study have found that there seems to be synergy between these two factors.

Physical Activity:

People were asked about their exercise habits during the first visit in 1987. Only 40 percent were meeting the American Heart Association recommendations of at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D levels were measured in the second visit in 1990. About 30 percent of the volunteers had blood levels under 20 ng/ml of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, a level considered deficient.

What the Scientists Found:

The investigators found that people who exercised more tended to have higher blood levels of vitamin D. This held up for the majority (79%) of the participants who were white. The scientists did not find any relationship between physical activity and vitamin D among volunteers who were black.

Light-skinned people make vitamin D if their skin is exposed to the sun for relatively brief periods. Perhaps they did not wear sunscreen while they did active things outside. Darker-skinned people need more sun exposure to make a comparable amount of vitamin D. The researchers tried to correct for this with statistics, but such corrections aren’t always perfect.

Here Is the Synergy Against Heart Disease:

They also found that people who were more physically active and had higher vitamin D levels were least likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke or death from either during the study. Both vitamin D and activity helped protect the volunteers against heart disease. The benefits from the combination of adequate vitamin D plus adequate exercise were measurably greater than those from either factor alone.

Chin et al, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Apr. 1, 2017

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