Australia is well known for its sunshine. Here in Yamba the sun rises and falls with little protection from clouds on most days of the year (except on summer afternoons when your cricket team is 3 wickets away from winning!). So it is surprising that Vitamin D deficiency is a common condition affecting a large proportion of older Australians.
Vitamin D is mainly absorbed through direct exposure to sunshine, however it can come from dietary sources such as fatty fish, eggs and fortified foods such as margarine. Cholecalciferol is the major souce of Vitamin D formed in the skin from direct sunlight. Due to the high prevalance of skin cancers, there is much controversy surrounding the topic of “healthy sun exposure,” with health professionals from both sides having differing opinions. The recommendation is an exposure of 5-15 minutes of sunlight, 4 to 6 times a week, outside the hours of 10am to 2pm. This of course, is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, as sunlight can be harmful to those with variable health conditions.
Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency
Reduced Exposure to Sunlight
As stated, we need at least 5 to 15 minutes of direct sun exposre on most days of the week.
The skin pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to produce Vitamin D in repsonse to sunlight. Dark skinned indivduals will need 2 to 4 times more exposure to sunlight, or gain it through supplementaion or diet.
Vitamin D deficiency plus obesity, increases the risk of developing insulin resistance much more that just obesity or low Vitamin D levels. Data suggests that losing weight could potentially reverse vitamin D deficiency in obese people.
These alone are not causes, however elderly residents who reside in care facilities are at risk. This is partly explained by the age-related thinning of the skin, and partly due to reduced sunlight exposure.
Reduced Falls Risk
Vitamin D has been linked in a study to a reduction of falls risk among ambulatory or institutionalized older individuals, with stable health by more than 20%. Vitamin D promotes the healthy growth and remodelling of the bone matrix. Deficiency causes impaired muscle function and muscle weakness. Therefore, it is evident that healthy levels of Vitamin D in the elderly strengthen both bone and muscle, resulting in reduced risks from falls.
Vitamin D is important for fighting infection, absorbing calcium and maintaining a healthy immune system. So get outdoors and soak up some rays (Slip Slop Slap!). Enjoy fish (e.g. salmon, trout) for two meals during the week. If you have a family member or friend in a care facility, take them for a walk in the sunlight.
Most importantly, combine this knowledge with a prescribed strength program developed by one of Optimum’s academically trained Exercise Physiologists.