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Healthy Aging: Winter is coming

(Pixabay photo)

The days are blustery, the sky is grey and, yes, Gordon Lightfoot, the gales of November turn dreary. In the darkness of fall, the true north image of Canada becomes all too familiar.

It is the time of year when we all start to bundle up, but we won’t find any clear, crisp days of snow and skiing just yet. Instead, we get rain and wind, clouds and gloom. How do we manage and how do we get ready for the next four to six months of this tough climate?

I think one of the most important issues is to manage the lack of sunshine. Those grey days have an effect on mood, on bones and on overall health. We know that sunshine helps us absorb vitamin D. This is the one vitamin we do not get from food, or if we do, we only get it in very tiny amounts.

Yet vitamin D is vital for bone health and may help prevent colon cancer. Moreover, newer research is looking at the anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin D. Most interestingly, multiple sclerosis (MS) is uncommon in areas with lots of sunshine, such as the Caribbean, and becomes more common in northern climates, such as ours.


For the average Canadian over the age of 50, Osteoporosis Canada suggests 1,000-2,000 international units of vitamin D per day. While often paired with calcium, pure vitamin D supplements are actually smaller and easier to swallow and digest than calcium pills. It is advised that people take them with, or after, food, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin. We no longer measure vitamin D routinely in healthy people, as it is almost always low. The current recommendation for doctors is to advise patients to take it regularly and only check the levels in certain individuals, to confirm absorption.

As for calcium intake, ideally people will get all they need from their diet, rather than tablets. Three to four dairy servings per day is what’s needed to protect most people’s bones. Sound like a lot? Not really. Try cheese at breakfast, a yogurt as a snack and a latte in the afternoon. Then maybe salmon or broccoli and some almonds for dinner and you are home free. Check out Osteoporosis Canada’s Calcium Tracker on its website,, to be sure your diet is adequate.

While vitamin D is vital for bone health, it will do little to fend off the winter blues. Some mood disorders, namely seasonal affective disorder (SAD), are directly related to the lack of sunshine at this time of year.

For some of us, dark days lead to dark moods. But new research suggests that using SAD lights on a daily basis can have a positive impact on mood, irritability and depression.

So what I’m recommending this November is adequate amounts of vitamin D, a diet high in calcium, some SAD light time if you need it and, as always, lots of fun times with friends and family, for winter is coming …

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