Fitness: Why vitamin D can help your cardio (and fight coronavirus)

Research has found vitamin D is associated with better cardio and respiratory health, as well as helping to fight coronavirus)

Running autumn vitamin D
(Image credit: Nathalie Desiree/Unsplash)

Do you find running a chore, struggle with HIIT and hate dancing? Cardio exercise  improves your heart and respiratory health, but it's a struggle for some. Working on your fitness levels can be a daunting task, which is why it's often better to start slowly, walking to lose weight instead of running. 

Fortunately, walking and running can improve your heart and lungs in more ways than one: it can get you out in the sun, providing lots of vitamin D. 

Vitamin D levels in the blood are linked to cardiorespiratory fitness, according to a study published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The study examined 1,995 people aged 20-49 years using the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES), taken in 2001-2004. The study found those with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood had a higher VO2 max score than those with lower vitamin D counts. 

VO2 max is a common measure of cardiorespiratory fitness, and can be measured by some smartwatches such as the Apple Watch Series 6. It's described as "the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during exercise". The more oxygen your body can take it during a period of intense work, the fitter you are. 

VO2 max can be improved by cardio exercise training, such as going for power-walks, runs, dancing, soccer, martial arts and more. However, this study shows that increasing your vitamin D levels could complement and improve it even further. 

Woman dancing

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dr Amr Marawan, assistant professor of internal medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, said: "Our study shows that higher levels of vitamin D are associated with better exercise capacity. 

"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."

Although the study couldn't definitely conclude more vitamin D equals a better VO2 max, Dr Marawan did note: "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."

That's not all vitamin D can do. In one new study, following tests conducted at a hospital in Santander, research also found that of 216 people tested, 82% of coronavirus patients had a vitamin D deficiency. Women were less affected than men. A connection has since been made between coronavirus susceptibility and lack of vitamin D, another great reason to up your intake.

A great way to get vitamin D into your diet is by enriching mushrooms with additional vitamin D. Simply leave them on the windowsill for a couple of hours, where they will absorb the sun's rays just like a human body would, and all those benefits transfer once you eat them.

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Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. 

Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.