When exercise isn't enough to keep your muscles strong and toned

April 09, 2013
Volume 10    |   Issue 15

Almost all of us will experience some loss of tone to our muscles as we age. But just because we all experience it doesn't mean we should just let it run its course. Most people will try to firm up their muscles with exercise. While that's the first place to start, it's not all you can do.

New research is discovering that there may be a link between vitamin D levels and muscle efficiency and improved skeletal muscle function.  Many patients with a vitamin D deficiency complain of physical fatigue.  Turns out, they're probably connected.

Our skin produces the hormone vitamin D by transforming energy from the sun and from our diet.  But we're finding more and more people are deficient in this hormone – a big problem, since it's essential for good bone health.  But that doesn't explain the physical fatigue many patients are experiencing. 

Researchers think this fatigue may be the result of problems within our mitochondria, the energy producers of our cells.  Mitochondria transform glucose and oxygen into ATP, a molecule our muscles use as energy for movement.  But mitochondria also use phosphocreatine to make ATP and replenish their phosphocreatine stores after each muscle contraction.  We can tell a lot about how efficient mitochondria are by how quickly they are able to replenish those stores.

A recent study investigated those phosphocreatine recovery times in patients with vitamin D deficiency, using a non-invasive magnetic resonance scan.  They then performed a similar scan after treating the patients with a fixed dose of oral vitamin D for 10-12 weeks.  Response time increase dramatically – in fact, the average phosphocreatine recovery half time decreased from 34.4 to 27.8 seconds!  And every single one of the patients reported less fatigue. 

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Clearly, there's a correlation between vitamin D levels and muscle efficiency.  And supplementation definitely seems to help improve muscle aerobic metabolism.  So it's certainly a good idea to exercise your muscles. But if your mitochondria can't replenish their phosphocreatine stores quickly, your efforts won't be as efficient. And you're probably going to feel a lot more run down.

If you don't want your efforts to be in vain, make sure your vitamin D levels are where they need to be.  That means your vitamin D levels need to be well above 50 ng/mL, preferably above 70 ng/mL. I recommend 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. This is another way to make sure you have all the right weapons for your fight against loss of muscle tone.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Akash Sinha, Kieren Hollingsworth, Steve Ball, Tim Cheetham. Improving the vitamin D status of vitamin D deficient adults is associated with improved mitochondrial oxidative function in skeletal muscle. Endocrine Abstracts, 2013; : 1 DOI: 10.1530/endoabs.31.OC1.6.

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