Vitamin D deficiency and leisure time activities in the elderly: are all pastimes the same?

PLoS One. 2014 Apr 10;9(4):e94805. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094805. eCollection 2014.


Background: Optimal vitamin D status is important for overall health and well-being, particularly in the elderly. Although vitamin D synthesis in the skin declines with age, exposure to sunlight still seems to help older-aged adults to achieve adequate serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) levels. Elderly people would therefore benefit from outdoor leisure activities, but the effects of different types of pastime on serum 25OHD levels have yet to be thoroughly investigated.

Aims: To assess the association of different pastimes with 25OHD deficiency in elderly subjects.

Methods: A sample of 2,349 community-dwelling elderly individuals (1,389 females and 960 males) enrolled in the Progetto Veneto Anziani was analyzed. Brisk walking, cycling, gardening and fishing were classed as outdoor activities, and dancing and gym workouts as indoor pastimes. Any activities undertaken for at least 1 hour/week during the previous month were considered as being practiced regularly. Logistic regression models were used to estimate the association between different pastimes and 25OHD deficiency.

Results: Serum 25OHD levels were significantly higher in individuals who engaged in outdoor pastimes (+25% in women, +27.7% in men) compared to those who did not. In particular, subjects regularly practicing gardening or cycling had higher serum 25OHD levels than those who did not, whereas 25OHD levels differed little between subjects who did or did not undertake indoor activities. Among the outdoor pastimes considered, logistic regression analysis confirmed a lower likelihood of vitamin D deficiency (25OHD<50 nmol/L) for cyclists (OR 0.51, 95% CI 0.37-0.69 in women; OR 0.50, 95% CI 0.29-0.87 in men) and gardeners (OR 0.62, 95% CI 0.47-0.83 in women; OR 0.46, 95% CI 0.26-0.80), but not for brisk walkers.

Conclusions: Regular cycling and gardening reduce the likelihood of inadequate vitamin D status in Caucasian elderly people, irrespective of their age, BMI and comorbidities, and of the season of the year.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Gardening
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Male
  • Sunlight*
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives*
  • Vitamin D / blood
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / blood
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / diagnosis*
  • Walking


  • Vitamin D
  • 25-hydroxyvitamin D