Canadian winters are known to be long and frigid and can be especially dangerous and isolating for less mobile seniors. Another result of staying indoors is having less exposure to sunlight and, in turn, vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential component of healthy aging and we need a higher dosage as we age. According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400 international units (IU) for children up to age 12 months, 600 IU for people ages 1 to 70 years, and 800 IU for people over 70 years. Many older adults are found to be lacking in this crucial nutrient, especially throughout the winter months.
Vitamin D can also play an important role in brain health and function and exert various neuroprotective effects in brain areas essential for cognition. Being severely deficient in vitamin D is associated with a more than twofold increased risk of developing dementia.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is called ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because it is made when a chemical in our skin comes into direct contact with sunlight. Throughout the winter, as the days get shorter and colder, we begin to retreat indoors and spend less time outside. Unfortunately, this results in having less exposure to the sun and our best natural source of vitamin D. During the winter, it is important to obtain the recommended daily amounts of vitamin D through food and supplements.
Benefits of Vitamin D
There are many reasons why we need a sufficient amount of vitamin D in our bodies:
- Improves mental health and boosts cognitive function
- Promotes bone health and combats osteoporosis in older adults
- Protects oral health
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Can help to prevent cancers and infections
- May lower your risk of Parkinson’s disease
How to Get the Recommended Dose of Vitamin D
As we know, sunshine is the best natural source of vitamin D. A 30-minute exposure should be enough to reach your daily recommended amount. Of course, sun exposure also heightens your risk of skin cancer so applying sunscreen is very important. In the winter you could invest in a UV lamp to reap the benefits of vitamin D without having to leave the house.
Supplements, such as cod liver oil, are a great alternative source of vitamin D. Additionally, cod liver oil is also high in other nutrients, such as vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, which play a role in heart health.
Other sources of vitamin D can be obtained through the food we eat, such as fatty fish like salmon, herring, and sardines, as well as canned tuna and egg yolks. Some foods are specifically fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, juice, yogurt and cereals.
Eating healthfully is important, which is why we make sure the residents at our retirement homes eat well. Carefor Richmond Care Home for women living with dementia and our Carefor Civic Complex and Mackay Centre in Pembroke know how important healthy and delicious food is. It’s not just a highlight of the day but helps seniors stay well.
Find out more about our retirement options at www.carefor.ca/retirement