Sun exposure looks like a free way for the elderly to maintain their physical function and mobility

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Earlier this month one of my blogs focused on the benefits of sunlight exposure, and in particular the seeming ability of higher vitamin D levels to protect us from a wide range of cancer. Vitamin D is believed to have other roles within the body, including some ability to help ensure normal muscular function.

In a recent study [1] researchers assessed the relationship between vitamin D levels and ‘physical performance’ (as measured with a standard test of physical abilities such as walking and balance) and hand grip strength. The participants of this study ” about 1000 people aged 65 or more ” were classified as being of normal vitamin D status, or having either vitamin D insufficiency (vitamin D levels of less than 50 nmol/L) or vitamin D deficiency (vitamin D levels of less than 25 nmol/L).

  • This research revealed:Vitamin D deficient men and women had significantly lower physical performance and handgrip strength compared to individuals with adequate vitamin D levels.
  • Vitamin D insufficient men and women had significantly lower handgrip strength compared to individuals with adequate vitamin D levels.

The authors of this study have called for more research to be done on the relationship between vitamin D status and physical function, especially bearing in mind the ageing nature of the population.

My sense is that it can be quite easy for elderly individuals to find themselves in a bit of a downward spiral as a result of vitamin D deficiency and reduced physical function: the lower someone’s physical function is, the less likely they are to go outside, the more likely they are therefore to become vitamin D deficient and have this impact negatively on their physical function. And so the cycle may go on.

My mother, who is in her mid-70s, was recently expressing her belief to me that, as we age, it’s very important to still get out and about. Obviously, she did not need to convince me of the benefits of regular activity. But this latest research has got me thinking about whether getting out and about might have profound benefits for those wanting to maintain their physical capabilities through improved levels of vitamin D in the body.

In natural medicine we can sometimes offer advice or make recommendations that are beyond the reach of most individuals. And as a reader of this site recently reminded me, a lot may have little or no practical relevance to the elderly.

With this in mind, I want to take this opportunity to highlight the benefits of simply getting out in the sun for all of us, including the elderly. Those who are quite mobile might want to make a point of taking a daily walk, which of course could be had as part of other activities such as shopping. However, it might be that even the less mobile might benefit from being outside when weather conditions allow, particularly when the sun is shining. And it’s perhaps also worth remembering that the benefits to be had from getting sunlight exposure are free. That, unlikely many things, puts it within reach of just about everyone.


1. Houston DK, et al. Association Between Vitamin D Status and Physical Performance: The InCHIANTI Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2007;62(4):440-6.

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