My mother was a beautiful, tall, vibrant women. She had a passion for travel, making jewelry, and gardening. Now, she is a shell of her former self. Her body is riddled with osteoporosis. She always looks down because her spine no longer allows her to stand up straight. Because of the pain she no longer travels, makes jewelry or any of her former hobbies. Her passion is gone, her love of life is gone, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I see her. This degenerative disease has lead me on my lifelong passion to help other women stay strong. Our bones were meant to last a lifetime. However the current epidemic of poor bone health stems directly from our lifestyle. We have come to expect poor health as part of the aging process. My aim of this article is to encourage women (and men) to build better bones, to keep passion and love of life through strength, and not end up like my mother.
Bone fulfills many functions in your body:
Bone gives the body form, rigidity, protection, and locomotion. There are 206 bones in the body and they are the hardest of all tissues. As such, they give form and rigidity to our bodies, allowing us to sit, stand tall, and walk.
Bones serve as an incubator for the red blood cells. Each second, our body produces 2.4 million red blood cells. These red blood cells are produced inside bone, in the nine ounces of bone marrow are body contains. Bone is an active manufacturing plant.
Bones serve as the mineral bank for the body. Ninety-nine percent of the body’s total calcium is stored in the bones, 85 percent of the phosphorus, 60 percent of the magnesium, and 35 percent of the sodium. Bones store minerals, keeping them available for use anywhere in the body. The level of blood calcium, for example, must be kept within a very precise range. Essential functionality from your heartbeat and nerve transmission, depend on precise blood calcium levels. When levels drop, a myriad of reactions occur aimed at drawing the calcium from the bone and depositing it into the blood. If more minerals are taken out of the bone than deposited back into the bone, the end result is thin, weak bones.
In the United States more women have osteoporosis than men do, and osteoporosis is held to be largely a disorder of women. However this may be more cultural than genetic. For decades women believed you could never be too thin. We are embroiled in a thinness mania, young and old, following misguided attempts at maintaining lower weight. It is virtually impossible to consume the nutrients required for bone maintenance, much less bone growth, on a low calorie diet. Under nutrition causes osteoporosis in young and old alike. Women were also told that nice girls don’t build muscle mass. It was taught that it is not proper to exercise heavily enough to build visible and defined muscle mass. Strong muscles are a good indicator of strong bones and it takes strenuous activity to build strong muscles.
Osteoporosis is not just a dreadful disease that randomly strikes some of us. Excessive bone thinning and the development of weak bones does not occur without due cause and this is often associated with poor lifestyle choices. Lifelong patterns of poor eating, smoking, surgeries and medication, excessive stress and little exercise. Never before have we been so physically inactive, eaten so much processed food, spent so much time indoors, taken so many drugs, or exposed to a vast array of pollutants. I believe that our sedentary lifestyle ranks number one as a major cause of osteoporosis.
Physical activity builds bone at all ages and bone mass maintenance is a natural response to load placed upon the body (i.e. weight training). Exercise is absolutely essential for optimum bone development in the young, and without it aging bone regeneration is limited. Nutrition alone cannot bring about maximum peak bone mass or maintain optimum bone mass as we age. Exercise is not an option. If we build muscle, we build bone. Conversely, if we lose muscle, we lose bone. Skeletal strength correlates directly with total muscle mass, and individual bone strength generally correlates with the strength of the muscles. Women with stronger back muscles have stronger vertebrae and stronger hip bones. Less fit people have both less muscle mass and less bone mass just as they have less aerobic capacity. Weight training is a very effective way to build muscle mass. The more weight-bearing exercises yield greater bone benefits. Less strenuous activities like walking can help to maintain bone mass, but generally more vigorous activity is needed to actually build bone. All things being equal, the more strenuous the activity, the more bone built. Among women at menopause and beyond high intensity strength-training exercises done only twice a week over a year yielded detectable increases in spinal and hip density.
Start by developing a strong, comprehensive bone-building strength training program. There is never a good time to slack off. The exercise component should be regular and rigorous. If you do not currently exercise regularly, begin slowly and build up exercise time and endurance. However judging the adequacy of your personal exercise program is often difficult.
Here are 4 tips to improve your bone health:
1. Consistently exercise at least three times per week. Three times per week is a minimum to maintain bone density. If you can exercise more that 3 times per week, even smaller 10-15 minute sessions, you can add to your bone strength.
2. Exercise vigorously enough to increase aerobic capacity, as well as strength. You have to challenge the body in order for it to change. If the exercise you are currently performing is not challenging you, why would you expect your body to change and become stronger, leaner, or healthier?
3. Work your posterior (back side) with 3 exercises to every 1 (anterior side or front) exercise. Back extensor strength correlates well with spinal bone density. Example exercises would be pull-ups, lat pulldowns, bent over rows, squats and deadlifts, to name a few. Most people focus on the muscles they see when looking in the mirror, forgetting that the muscles on your backside support your body, spine, hips, and shoulders.
4. When beginning a strength training program one should seek professional guidance. We often see individuals start too fast with the intention of quick results, instead of focusing on long term fitness with a progressive program. Each one of us is an individual with different needs, goals, injuries, and challenges. Set yourself up for success with a plan to achieve your goals.
Finally, remember a house built on a weak foundation will not stand. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of your bone health. A strong foundation for lifelong healthy bones must be built in youth and maintained in adulthood. Exercise, together with proper nutrition, a life-supporting lifestyle, can help build and rebuild bone density at any stage of life. Hopefully, you are ready to commit yourself to making these healthy changes!
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