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Can one plus one equal three? When it comes to reducing your risk of heart trouble, the answer may be yes!

Exercising regularly and getting enough vitamin D are two well-known ways to help protect the cardiovascular system. But a new study suggests that when these measures team up, the overall improvement could be greater than the sum of their separate benefits.

Researchers found that exercisers may lower their already-reduced risk of heart disease and stroke 23 percent more if they also have adequate vitamin D in their bloodstream.

The study, from Johns Hopkins University, was published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 10,000 participants whose health was tracked for about 20 years. At the beginning of the study, they were free of heart or vascular disease. Over time, people who exercised most continued to have the best heart health, but only if they also had enough vitamin D.

How much is enough?

You don’t have to run marathons to achieve the possible extra benefit. In the research, people who ranked highest in activity followed American Heart Association guidelines to get at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise.

The amount of vitamin D needed also appears to be moderate. Test subjects who did best got the recommended daily amount of 600 to 800 international units. “More isn’t necessarily better,” says Erin Michos, MD, MHS, associate director of preventive cardiology and associate professor of medicine at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a news release.

Should you try it?

It’s not clear why physical activity and vitamin D seem to work better together, and additional research is needed to prove cause and effect. Still, you have nothing to lose by getting plenty of exercise and vitamin D.

If you haven’t been active for a while, get your doctor’s okay before hitting the gym or hiking those hills. To get your vitamin D, eat fatty fish like salmon or tuna and fortified milk and cereal. Or go outside and your body will manufacture enough vitamin D with a few minutes of daily sun exposure.

Food, fitness, and fresh air: that’s a health recommendation you can live with!

What has helped you the most to protect your heart health? Add your comment below.