Exercise and Vitamin D

Vitamin D often gets partnered with calcium as vitamins that are essential for bone health.  While bone health is important enough on it’s own, recent research is shedding light on how important vitamin D can be for other functions of the body as well.  Moreover, vitamin D deficiencies are on the rise among the general population (1), making our understanding of the benefits and awareness of our vitamin D intake crucial for a healthy routine.  Exercise and vitamin D have both been identified separately as reducing risk for heart disease, and new research is looking at what they can do when utilized together.  Here are some of the latest findings from the research on exercise and vitamin D and how they interact to benefit you.

How does exercise impact vitamin D?

It’s thought the primary mechanism by which exercise can help to increase vitamin D is through sun exposure. It’s estimated that >90% of vitamin D our bodies require comes from sun exposure (2).  However, research is mixed between recommendations of indoor and outdoor activity, as both still seem to have a positive impact on vitamin D.  Those meeting physical activity recommendations and that had optimal and intermediate levels of vitamin D had a significantly reduced risk of a cardiovascular event when compared to those with deficient vitamin D (3).

What does vitamin D do for exercise?

One study found that higher levels of vitamin D were associated with an increased exercise capacity (4). Vitamin D plays a role in heart health, and by increasing vitamin D levels, exercise capacity could be increased, further improving heart health.  A 2011 study from Harvard found that those who exercise both vigorously and regularly had higher levels of vitamin D (5).

Should I supplement with vitamin D?

It is not entirely clear if vitamin D is the driver for improved fitness, or if improved fitness naturally boosts vitamin D stores.  Some speculation is that they work together and are mutually beneficial to the other.  It is important to note though that if you and your doctor decide to add supplementing with vitamin D to your routine, adding vitamin D alone may not improve your exercise capacity.  Combining exercise with your supplementation will provide a greater benefit.  When it comes to supplements, many would recommend natural and food sources first.  Focus on vitamin D from sunlight exposure and foods like fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods.  If you’re thinking of starting a vitamin D supplement, it is best to confirm with a doctor or other health care provider first.

Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see the Adult Fitness Program website.


  1. Wiciński, M., Adamkiewicz, D., Adamkiewicz, M., Śniegocki, M., Podhorecka, M., Szychta, P., & Malinowski, B. (2019). Impact of Vitamin D on Physical Efficiency and Exercise Performance-A Review. Nutrients11(11), 2826. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11112826

  2. Holick MF. Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004; 80(6 Suppl) 1678S–1688S.

  3. Kathleen Chin, Di Zhao, Martin Tibuakuu, Seth S. Martin, Chiadi E. Ndumele, Roberta Florido, B. Gwen Windham, Eliseo Guallar, Pamela L. Lutsey, Erin D. Michos, Physical Activity, Vitamin D, and Incident Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease in Whites and Blacks: The ARIC Study, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 102, Issue 4, 1 April 2017, Pages 1227–1236, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2016-3743

  4. Marawan A, Kurbanova N, Qayyum R. Association between serum vitamin D levels and cardiorespiratory fitness in the adult population of the USA. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 2019;26(7):750-755. doi:1177/2047487318807279

  5. CHOMISTEK, ANDREA K.1; CHIUVE, STEPHANIE E.1,2; JENSEN, MAJKEN K.1; COOK, NANCY R.2,3; RIMM, ERIC B.1,3,4Vigorous Physical Activity, Mediating Biomarkers, and Risk of Myocardial Infarction, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 2011 – Volume 43 – Issue 10 – p 1884-1890 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31821b4d0a