Muscle mass loss is a normal part of aging, but one that can be mitigated with proper diet and exercise -- particularly strength training. But according to a new study in the medical journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, having higher levels of vitamin D may also help.
In a study of more than 400 adults, researchers found that participants with a high level of circulating vitamin D also had greater muscle strength in both arms and legs, even after researchers controlled for mitigating factors like age, gender, resting heart rate, blood pressure, BMI and a measure of aerobic capacity: maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max). Researchers also factored in the season of vitamin D measurement, which is synthesized, in part, from sunlight exposure.
Age-related muscle deterioration isn't just a vanity: It can lead to greater risk of injury, explained the study's lead investigator, Paul D. Thompson, M.D., FACSM, chief of cardiology at Hartford Hospital.
"This is a key area of aging research since people lose strength as they age, but maintaining muscle strength helps prevent falls and fractures, and preserves the ability to live independently,” Thompson said in a statement.
While the vitamin D levels were more strongly associated with arm strength, they were associated with both arm and leg strength. Further study will be needed to understand if the relationship is causal -- in other words, if taking dietary vitamin D will help improve muscle strength or if those who naturally produce more of the hormone are also more likely to maintain their muscles.
That said, this isn't the first time that vitamin D has been found to help prevent age-related injury. A study in July 2012 found that taking 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D helped reduce the risk of hip fractures by 30 percent and overall bone fractures by 14 percent, reported Reuters.
Read on for ways to sneak more vitamin D into your diet: