How do I prevent low vitamin D levels?
Low vitamin D levels occur mainly in people who do not get enough sun. To prevent low vitamin D levels, you need sun exposure on your bare skin.
If you’re fair-skinned, spending a few minutes in the sun on most days — either side of the peak UV periods with your face, hands and arms (or a similar amount of skin) exposed — is usually enough to help your body produce the vitamin D it needs. In winter, in the southern states of Australia, more sun exposure may be needed.
If you have dark skin, you need 3 to 6 times more sun exposure to produce the vitamin D your body needs.
Most children and teenagers can maintain healthy vitamin D levels if they play outdoor games or sport during the day. Sun protection — such as sunscreen, a hat, clothing, sunglasses and shading — is still needed, particularly when the UV index is 3 or above.
People of all ages should follow safe sun guidelines — too much sun increases your risk of skin cancer and can even cause the vitamin D in your skin to break down. More information on safe sun exposure, sunscreen and vitamin D is available from the Cancer Council. UV levels can also be found in most metropolitan newspapers and from the Bureau of Meteorology.
Image reproduced with permission, Cancer Council Australia.
Small amounts of vitamin D can also be found in some foods such as oily fish and eggs, but it is very difficult to get enough from your diet alone.
Eat a calcium-rich diet — many Australians don’t consume enough calcium. If you're low in calcium, vitamin D has to work harder to maintain healthy bones. The best food sources of calcium include dairy products, tinned bony fish, calcium-set tofu, nuts and some green vegetables.
Keep physically active — if you don’t already have bone problems, weight-bearing exercises (e.g. jogging, tennis) and resistance exercises (e.g. lifting weights) can help prevent osteoporosis. Muscle-strengthening, balance and stability exercises (e.g. Tai Chi) can help prevent falls and possible fractures.
Some people may need to take a vitamin D supplement. Supplements containing vitamin D are available without a prescription from pharmacies, supermarkets and health food stores. However, you should take the supplement that your doctor or pharmacist recommends for you.
Find out more
- What is vitamin D and why is it important?
- Am I at high risk of vitamin D deficiency?
- Download our Vitamin D tests and deficiency fact sheet to find out if you are at risk of deficiency, how to improve your vitamin D levels, and whether you need a vitamin D test.