Vitamin D and Exercise Capacity

Higher Levels of Vitamin D Associated with Higher Exercise Capacity

Vitamin D is naturally present in a few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It is produced when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin. Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium from the intestine, improves muscle function, improves the immune system (which protects against infection), and reduces inflammation.

Sources of vitamin D - a pill, salmon, and sunshine

Sources of vitamin D – a pill, salmon, and sunshine

Kaul and colleagues from University Medical Greifswald in Germany published the results of two studies which evaluated levels of Vitamin D in the blood and exercise capacity in different groups of healthy individuals. The findings were published online in the December 2015 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.

There were 1,377 participants in the first study. The second study was done to confirm findings of the first study and included 750 participants. In both studies blood was drawn to measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D (the best indicator of Vitamin D status) and all subjects performed exercise on a stationary cycle (ergometer) until exhaustion.

Findings: Subjects with higher levels of Vitamin D showed a higher exercise capacity compared with subjects who had low blood levels. These findings were statistically significant. The results were true regardless of age, sex, and season.

My Comment: These findings raise the consideration of taking a vitamin D supplement, especially if you live somewhere like New Hampshire (as I do) where being outdoors and being exposed to sunshine is minimal during the winter months. Vitamin D can also decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Remember that this study was done in healthy individuals, so you can not assume that the same results would be found in those with COPD.

Of course, you can discuss whether taking vitamin D is beneficial with your health care provider. Note, The NIH emphasizes that people over age 50 generally need higher amounts of vitamin D than younger people do.







Foods for COPD

Dear Dr. Mahler:

Two years ago I was diagnosed with COPD and turned the page on 20 years of smoking and an unhealthy life style. Now, I am trying to do everything that I can to lead a healthy life and try to prevent my condition from getting worse. What is your advice on foods to eat and foods to avoid?


Gloria from Erie, PA 


You ask an important question since eating is one of the pleasures of life. As you probably already know, we should all “eat to live” rather than “live to eat.”

The best foods for COPD are generally the same as are recommended for health in general. However, eating too much carbohydrate may be bad for COPD and breathing because carbohydrates are metabolized (broken down) into carbon dioxide (CO2) which we exhale as a waste product of our body. As a result, eating an excessive amount of carbs may cause an increase in breathing difficulty.

Here is a brief list of healthy foods:

  1. whole grains
  2. low-fat 2% milk – has protein, calcium, and Vitamin D
  3. healthy fats – omega-3 found in nuts, eggs, olive oil, avocados, fish
  4. fruits and vegetables
  5. beans and peas – contain zinc
  6. lean protein – fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy products
Fresh fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables






Also, for those with COPD it is recommended that you eat small frequent meals rather than three large ones. Too much food in the stomach can push up the diaphragm (the maF

For those of us who live in northern climates and don’t get much sunlight or sunshine during winter months, you may wish to consider taking a Vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is required to help our body absorb calcium from our intestines which is important for strong bones. Vitamin D is also thought to have anti-inflammatory effects. You should discuss this with your doctor.

Finally, in the on-line publication on May 6, 2015, in the journal Neurology, Andrew Smyth and his colleagues reported that healthy eating was associated with a reduce risk of cognitive decline (memory loss and trouble thinking) in people who had a high risk of heart disease. Whether these findings apply to the rest of us with our without COPD is unknown. However, eating healthy (see items 1 – 6 above) makes sense. Bon appetit!

I hope that this information is helpful.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D.