Independent and Combined Effects of Exercise and Vitamin D on Muscle Morphology, Function and Falls in the Elderly


Regular exercise, particularly progressive resistance training (PRT), is recognized as one of the most effective strategies to prevent age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia), but its effects on muscle function are mixed. However, emerging data indicates that high velocity PRT (fast concentric muscle contractions) is more effective for improving functional outcomes than traditional PRT. In terms of falls prevention, high-challenging balance training programs appear to be most effective. There is also compelling evidence that supplemental vitamin D is an effective therapeutic option for falls prevention. The findings from a recent meta-analysis revealed that supplemental vitamin D at a dose of at least 700–1,000 IU/d or an achieved serum 25(OH)D level of at least 60 nmol/L was associated with reduced falls risk among older individuals. Based on these findings, it is possible that the combination of exercise and vitamin D could have a synergistic effect on muscle morphology and function, particularly since both interventions have been shown to have beneficial effects on type II “fast twitch” muscle fibers and systemic inflammation, which have both been linked to losses in muscle mass and function. Unfortunately however, the findings from the limited number of factorial 2 × 2 design RCTs indicate that additional vitamin D does not enhance the effects of exercise on measures of muscle morphology, function or falls risk. However, none of these trials were adequately powered to detect a “synergistic” effect between the two treatment strategies, but it is likely that if an exercise-by-vitamin D interaction does exist, it may be limited to situations when vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency is corrected. Further targeted research in “high risk” groups is still needed to address this question, and evaluate whether there is a threshold level of serum 25(OH)D to maximize the effects of exercise on muscle and falls risk

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