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Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is important for strong bones and muscle function. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium into its bones. Older adults who don’t get enough vitamin D can develop bone and muscle weakness and have an increased risk of falls. There are three sources of vitamin D- sunlight, food and vitamin D supplements.

The best source of vitamin D is from sunlight.

Your body makes vitamin D when sunlight directly touches your skin. You can’t make vitamin D by sitting inside by a sunny window and sunscreen use reduces vitamin D production. Aim to get outside for 30 minutes on most days. It is important that you never get sunburnt.

The Ministry of Health recommends:

  • Between September and April, going for a daily walk or some other form of physical activity in the early morning or late afternoon. Sun protection is recommended (shade, cover-up clothing, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses) especially between 10am and 4pm.
  • Between May and August, going for a daily walk or another form of physical activity around noon. Sun protection is generally not needed at this time of the year unless you are near snow or water.

What foods contain vitamin D?

Food is a minor source of vitamin D and you cannot obtain all you need from food. Vitamin D from food however becomes more important in winter when there is less sunlight.  Vitamin D is naturally found in oily fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, sardines), eggs and liver. Some foods may have vitamin D added. These include: margarine and table spreads, some reduced-fat milk and yoghurts and some soy milks. Check the ingredient list on these foods to see if extra vitamin D has been added.

Vitamin D deficiency and supplements.

You are at risk of vitamin D deficiency if you:

  • have very dark skin
  • avoid direct sun exposure
  • have low mobility and are frail or housebound.

Older people are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency. As we age, our skin thins and we produce less vitamin D in response to sun exposure. Vitamin D supplements are available for people who are at risk of deficiency. Talk to your general practice team if you are concerned that you may not be getting enough vitamin D.

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Senior Chef is an 8-week cooking class for people aged 60 and over who want to improve their cooking skills, confidence, or motivation around cooking for one or two people. Classes are held in various locations around Christchurch and Canterbury. Senior Chef is free to attend. Everything, including the ingredients for the cooking class and recipe book, is provided. To find out more, go to seniorchef.co.nz, email senior.chef@pegasus.org.nz or phone 0800 333 405.