Growing up, most people heard that drinking milk was necessary to build strong, healthy bones. And it’s true. Milk contains calcium and vitamin D, which are linked to better bone health. What few people know, however, is vitamin D doesn’t occur naturally in many foods.

One way most of us get vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. When your bare skin is exposed to the sun’s rays, it synthesizes vitamin D from cholesterol. And it doesn’t take much sun for that process to occur.

While many people enjoy spending time outdoors in warmer months, winter is another story. In northern climates, it can be especially problematic. That’s why when the mercury drops, so do vitamin D levels. It can result in a serious vitamin D deficiency.

Health Problems Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency

Research shows a vitamin D deficiency has a negative impact on our health at every age, but especially as we grow older. Experts typically rank a deficiency in two categories:

  • Early-stage: The early signs of vitamin D deficiency are often tough to notice and may be overlooked or misdiagnosed. The most common include muscle and joint pain, mood swings, unexplained fatigue, and weakness.
  • Advanced: As the deficiency goes untreated, it can result in greater bone pain and possibly even bone fractures. The condition has also been linked to increased risk of heart and vascular disease, as well as some forms of cancer, including prostate, breast, and colon.

Vitamin D: How to Avoid a Deficiency This Winter

As we head into the heart of winter in Michigan and Indiana, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family elder from a vitamin D deficiency:

  • Make good food decisions: Cold winter weather might make you want to reach for comfort foods and sugary treats. While they might make you feel better in the short run, most aren’t high in vitamin D or calcium. Try to work canned salmon, milk, tuna, and mushrooms into your meals instead. Vitamin D enriched foods also help. A few to consume are yogurt, cereal, orange juice, and eggs.
  • Spend time outdoors: Getting a limited amount of sun exposure can also help. Check with your physician to see how much sunlight they suggest. A common recommendation is about 20 minutes of sun several times a week. If winter temps are too low to stay outdoors that long at one time, break it up over a few days.
  • Consider supplements: Nutritionists say it’s best to get essential vitamins and nutrients through your diet. But in the case of vitamin D, that’s not always possible. If you are concerned you or a senior loved one’s vitamin D levels are low, talk with a physician. They might order a simple blood test to check. If you are deficient, your doctor can decide if you need a prescription dose of vitamin D or if an over-the-counter supplement will suffice.

Healthy Diets Are a Priority at Heritage Senior Communities

Seniors, especially those who live alone, often struggle to stick with a well-balanced diet. Meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking can be a lot of work for one person. It’s one reason older adults find their nutrition quickly improves when they move to a senior living community. Better nutrition also boosts their health and energy levels.

At Heritage Senior Communities, our dining teams are committed to creating meals that are both delicious and nutritious. We invite you to call the community nearest you to learn more!