Bones For Life

(This article was originally published in May, 2010.)

I consider myself very lucky. A few days ago while running with Louie, my adorable little Boston Terrier, I took a nasty and what could have been a devastating fall on the pavement. Somehow, Louie got tangled between my feet and with tremendous momentum I was suddenly airborne and then CRASH! I never saw it coming – not even a moment to protect myself. Landing with full force on my hip, knee and hand I could do nothing but lay there and feel the soaring pain as stars spun around in my head. Frightened Louie, hopped on top of me, frantically licking my wounds.

After several minutes of deep breathing, I picked myself up and managed to” power hobble” the final mile to my house. Being 50 years old I realized how incredibly lucky I was. My hip, knee and hand could have easily broken; perhaps shattered, had my bones not been dense, strong and well cushioned with muscle. Working out regularly is not only about looking good and feeling good, it just may be about saving yourself! Fortunately, I recovered with a mere sprained finger, a few scrapes, and bruises.

But, that’s not all. This day had much more in store for me. After a busy and turbulent six hours, I was physically and mentally spent. Pain as you know is exhausting. I only wanted this day to end; but I was destined for one more barrier, my laundry room floor. Rushing into my house, anxious to open a UPS package that I was eyeing on the kitchen counter,  my flip flop caught under the storm door. CRASH! Again. I fell face down on the tile floor; yelling every awful word I knew. The pain was excruciating. The metal frame at the bottom of the door drove right into the back of my ankle. This bloody tumble landed me in the ER within an hour, only to experience more pain and stitches to sew up the day. The doctor asked me if I was trying to be super woman. Hmmm….

I’m not sure if this article should be about mindfulness (or, my lack of) slowing down, or the importance of bone building exercise to prevent broken bones and broken hearts from terrible falls. All would be appropriate. For now, strong bones and well-conditioned muscles for a healthy future wins.

The following are important facts about Osteoporosis and what you can do to prevent it!

Osteoporosis affects more than 25 million Americans — mostly women past menopause. Approximately 1.2 million bone fractures each year in the US are related to osteoporosis. The National Osteoporsis Foundation says that one in two women and one in eight men over 50 will have an osteoporosis related fracture in their lifetime. Thirty-three percent of women over 65 will experience a fracture of the spine and as many as 20% of hip fracture patients die within 6 months from conditions caused by lack of activity such as blood clots and pneumonia.

Throughout life bones go through a constant state of loss and regrowth, however as we age the loss accelerates to the point that regrowth cannot keep up and osteoporosis may develop. Osteoporosis causes the bones to become thin and fragile, increasing the chance of breaking with even minor injury.

As women age, estrogen levels decrease and the risk of osteoporosis increases. Women who take birth control pills during their reproductive years may reduce their risk of osteoporosis developing later in life, probably because of the estrogen that many oral contraceptives contain. Estrogen replacement therapy helps to protect women against bone loss. The late Dr. John Lee explains in his book, “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause,” how studies show that natural progesterone increases bone density in some women who have already experienced bone loss.

Symptoms of bone loss include back pain or tenderness, a loss of height, and a slight curvature or ‘hump’ of the upper back.

Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?

During menopause, the level of estrogen produced by the ovaries decreases significantly leading to an increased risk for bone loss. Surgical menopause with the removal of the ovaries accelerates the process of bone loss to a rapid level unless estrogen replacement therapy is begun.  An inadequate intake of calcium throughout life increases the chance of bone loss since calcium is one of the main components in bone.  White women and Asian women face the greatest risk of osteoporosis.  An inactive lifestyle puts women at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis.  Women with a slender build experience more bone loss than other women.  A history of eating disorders increases the risk of osteoporosis. Women whose family history includes osteoporosis have a higher risk of developing bone loss. Some medications such as diuretics, steroids, and anticonvulsants increase the risk. Women who smoke or drink alcohol experience a higher incidence of osteoporosis.

Preventing Osteoporosis

Because it is hard to replace bone that is lost, prevention is key. Beginning a lifelong commitment to exercise and healthy nutrition while you are still young reduces your risk of developing this condition later in life. Remember, you are never too young to think about preventing osteoporosis. Exercise increases bone mass before menopause and helps to reduce bone loss after menopause. Bone strength increases with regular exercise — weight-bearing exercise such as walking, low-impact aerobics, or tennis work best.

An adequate calcium intake is essential in the prevention of osteoporosis. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seafood. Most women get only about half of the calcium they need everyday so taking a calcium supplement is often advisable. The best form of calcium for preventing bone loss is calcium carbonate. If you choose to use calcium supplements, it’s important that you understand that the body can only absorb up to 500 mg of calcium at one time, so you will need to divide your dose if the amount of calcium supplement you take exceeds that amount.

Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium. Milk that is fortified with vitamin D is one of the best sources. Sunlight also is an excellent source of vitamin D. In fact, being in the sun for just 15 minutes a day helps the body produce and activate vitamin D.

How much calcium do you need?

Calcium is important throughout a woman’s life, although the amount necessary varies with age. Children from ages 1 to 10 require 800 mg of calcium daily. Teenagers need 1200 to 1500 mg of calcium per day. Women between 25 and 50 need 1000 mg of daily calcium before menopause and 1500 mg after surgical or premature menopause. Women over 50 require 1500 mg of calcium if they are not taking estrogen and 1000 mg if taking estrogen. Your doctor may recommend a higher dose of calcium and vitamin D, so be sure to consult with your physician before helping yourself to supplements.

Pregnant or nursing women need an additional 400 mg of calcium daily.

Younger women who experience the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may be pleasantly surprised to find their symptoms are reduced by employing these osteoporosis prevention techniques. Studies show that calcium supplements may reduce or prevent up to 50% of all PMS symptoms, and exercise is often effective for reducing PMS symptoms.

If you feel that you are at risk for osteoporosis, talk with you physician. Your physician may order a bone density scan which is a simple and painless tool that measures bone density. You may also be prescribed medication. Women who do not take estrogen after menopause have other options for preventing osteoporosis including drugs such as calcitonin which slows bone loss. Your physician can help you determine what treatment is best for you. Some women today prefer alternative methods of treatment as there are many. Just be sure to do your homework and consult with a knowledgeable professional about your health concerns.  There are several treatment options today and there is not one answer for every women’s body. Do some research and talk to your doctor!

Strength Training For Bone Building

As long as you’re alive regardless of age your bones can regenerate and grow. Strength training does not mean that you have to train for the Olympics. But, you must engage in bone-building exercise on a consistent basis. No excuses! Physical impact and weight-bearing exercise stimulates bone formation. Just as a muscle gets stronger and bigger the more you use it, a bone becomes stronger and denser when you regularly place demands upon it.

Exercise of varying degrees and methods are healthy and suggested for most women. I recommend no less than three days a week and thirty minutes of weight bearing activity such as walking, jogging, dancing, playing tennis or other racquet sports to keep your lower body bones strong. (I’m not talking about fat burning and heart health right now – just strong bones!) For the upper body it’s all about using weights and your own body weight. Is yoga better, or, as effective as weight training? Listen carefully to my answer, which is only my personal opinion. Absolutely, NO! Do not misunderstand me; I teach yoga. I love and respect the practice of yoga for a multitude of reasons. However, in my professional opinion and experience of 30 years of working with women, nothing protects and strengthens bones quite as well as weight training. Nothing!

One can only imagine the condition of my body following the two terrible falls I experienced this week, had I not been religiously working out with weights, three times a week, for the past 25 years!  I am banged up for sure… but not broken. And I intend to keep it this way!

Talk to your doctor and fitness professional about what you can and should be doing now, to help prevent muscle and bone weakness and loss.

Always love,

Allison

(This article was originally published in May 2010)

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