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Exercise Improves Heart Health and May Increase Vitamin D Levels

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health came across a surprising discovery in the course of studying how exercise effects heart health: exercise is not only associated with better heart health but seems to be correlated with higher blood levels of vitamin D.

The study was published in the October 2011 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

The study included 827 men who had no history of heart disease and 412 men who had suffered from a heart attack. All of the men participated in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1994 to 2004.

The researchers found that 3 or more hours of vigorous exercise per week were associated with a 22% reduced risk of heart attack, compared to no exercise.

The men who exercised most had higher levels of HDL (or “good”) cholesterol and lower levels of apolipoprotein B, which is the primary protein in LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol. The HDL cholesterol levels were accountable for 38% of the overall risk reduction. The vigorous exercise group also showed lower levels of hemoglobin A1c, which is a marker for diabetes risk.

Most interesting, however, was the higher levels of vitamin D3 found in the vigorous exercise group. The researchers hypothesized that people who exercise more spend more tend to spend more time outside, therefore maximizing their sun exposure.

Humans primarily obtain vitamin D3 from the sun, however vitamin D3 can also be obtained from fruits and vegetables. The researchers theorize that people who exercise more also may consume a healthier diet including more foods that contain vitamin D.

Heart health is one of the major benefits of vitamin D3 consumption but the “sunshine vitamin” has been linked to numerous health benefits. Studies have shown that higher vitamin D3 levels are correlated with improved eye health, skin cancer prevention, and a reduction in age-related mental decline. Some reports even suggest that higher levels of vitamin D could improve your mood and ease depression symptoms.

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