Gotta Run: Runners and everybody else need vitamin D

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 11, 2020

Just last week, there was a new release from health officials saying that vitamin D levels not only affect how likely a person is to get the coronavirus but also how likely the effects will be lessened if they do. We’ve become a society that spends more time indoors, and therefore we get less exposure to sunlight.

Without any real proof, other than paying attention to my own running times and general well-being, I have long relished my time in the outdoors while soaking up natural vitamin D. Then with the recent releases that cited coronavirus benefits, I began to pay more attention. Here is some of the latest information, both good for runners and everybody else too. Half of the population of the United States don’t get enough sun and 40% are seriously deficient in Vitamin D.

A Boston University doctor says we are all waiting for a vaccine while a sufficient amount of vitamin D can cut the risk of catching coronavirus significantly. “A deficiency in the nutrient alters the immune system, making one more likely to get upper respiratory infections. People have been looking for the magic drug or waiting for the vaccine and not looking for something this simple,” said Dr. Michael Holick, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University School of Medicine.

Holick and his colleagues studied blood samples from Quest Diagnostics of more than 190,000 Americans from all 50 states and found that those who had deficient levels of vitamin D had 54% higher COVID positivity compared to those with adequate levels of vitamin D in the blood. The risk of getting coronavirus continued to decline as vitamin D levels increased, the study, published in the Public Library of Science One Journal.

Besides exposure to the sun, there are two other sources of vitamin D– fish oil and foods that contain high levels of it, either naturally or through artificial fortification. Salmon, canned tuna, egg yolks and cod liver oil are healthy food choices for more vitamin D.

Children growing up in the ’30s and ’40s may have had their taste buds scarred by daily doses of cod liver oil, but each tablespoon contains more than 1,000 units of vitamin D. Few parents today would dare force such yucky-tasting stuff on their kids, leaving diet as the next source of vitamin D. Unfortunately, the limited number of foods that contain significant quantities leave supplements as the last resort for most people. Called the “sunshine vitamin,” those supplements are cheap and easy to find.

The commonly cited Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 400 IU per day. That figure is now considered ridiculously low especially because that recommendation has been the same for a 110-pound woman and a 200-pound man. Active adults have benefitted from at least 2,000 IU a day. Also, as we age, ability to absorb D through your skin diminishes, causing an increased dosage demand. To determine your blood levels, ask your doctor to get a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. This measures the effective form of the vitamin that can interact with calcium to help bone health.

In addition to strong bones, vitamin D has recently been posted as a preventive for certain cancers, particularly of the breast, colon, pancreas and prostate. But while those long-term benefits can’t be dismissed, runners may be most interested in the faster times and quicker recoveries that many have experienced. While most of us have heard for years that we need to keep our skin covered and use plenty of sunscreen, its worth considering a better balance. Moderate sun exposure, always short of burning, has now become an inexpensive benefit.

Real racing is back, with the Mt. Hope 5K at Salisbury Community Park on Saturday and the Ed Dupree 5K at East Rowan High School on Oct. 24.

Check them both out at