A Cure For Winter Malaise
By Don Otis
The days are short and cold. Is it any surprise that our motivation to get outside diminishes as the temperatures plummet? Only the hardiest of us wants to venture out after dark. The slick paths can lead to injury as footing and visibility become less predictable. The temptation is to sit inside, watch television, or make cookies. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these seasonal pursuits, they don’t help us stay in shape. The winter months can create other challenges to those of us who want to stay in shape.
A year ago I was feeling enormous fatigue. This led to one stale workout after another. At first I simply dismissed the poor results as age-related, or altitude (I live above 5,000 feet), or possibly too much stress. It is probable that each of these contributed to my malaise but I wasn’t sure. My doctor ordered a treadmill test, electrocardiogram (EKG), cardiopulmonary diagnostic test, and eventually some blood work. Other than discovering that I had a slight heart murmur, nothing explained my tiredness. Finally, I received a call after my blood work was in. My vitamin D levels were seriously low.
A native Southern Californian, I grew up outside and in the sun. I was stunned by the news that this simple vitamin could have such an impact on my health. Because we spend less time outside during the winter months, we receive less sunlight, a major source of vitamin D. During the summer, we apply plentiful amounts of sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. This also means we absorb less vitamin D during these peak months.
New studies show that vitamin D does more than build and maintain strong bones. It also allows us to run longer, faster and recover from injuries more quickly, according to Dr. John Cannell at the Copper Clinic in Dallas (i). The problem with vitamin D deficiency is that it is largely undetectable. In my case, I had no idea my level was so low until my blood test. If you are darker skinned, you may be at greater risk. Other at-risk groups are those who live in the northern part of the country.
How much vitamin D do we need? For those 50 and younger, 200 IU per day is recommended. For those over 50, double that amount or 400 IU. If you are active, new guidelines call for as much as 2000 IU daily (ii). By getting outside for 15 minutes each day (late morning to mid afternoon is best), most of us can absorb enough vitamin D. If you exercise outside in the winter months, you are probably getting enough of this important vitamin. The vitamin D we absorb from the sun stays in our bodies longer than what we take in through supplements. Other good sources of D include cereal, milk, tuna, salmon, and eggs.
Our bodies are an amazing gift from God. He wants us to be good stewards of these marvelous machines. He has designed us for activity and for balance; not for a sedentary lifestyle. At no time during the year is it more difficult to remain active and healthy than the winter months. Be intentional. Make your workout a regular part of your days, weeks, and months.
(i) Runner’s World, December 2009, p. 36-37
(ii) Check with your doctor to see if you need extra Vitamin D.
Don S. Otis is the author of Staying Fit After Forty and a personal trainer living in Canon City, Colorado. He can be reached at Don@veritasincorporated.com © 2009