BONE DENSITY: EXERCISE AND LIFESTYLE
By Sarah Zitin
In an age of advanced drugs and treatments for bone loss, simple exercise programs that can restore bone density are often overlooked. The nutritional aspects of fostering bone health, like getting enough calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K2, are also important. There are many foods which contain these vitamins, and eating dairy products is not one of them. Dairy actually decreases bone tissue, as opposed to building it. That’s another article!
Ten million Americans suffer with osteoporosis, and another 34 million have low bone mass and high risk for osteoporosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia (low bone density for your age, but not low enough be a risk factor for fracture), it’s important to know that it most likely hasn’t affected your bones’ ability to develop.
It’s also unlikely that your bone density is low in all the bones throughout your body — it’s likely centered in a few spots that you’ve neglected moving. You can begin simple weight-bearing exercises at any time, sending the message to the bone that you’d like it to start growing now.
FOCUS ON SPECIFICS
The ribs, wrists, hips and spine are the most common places to lose bone. Your hips are designed to rotate and have a large range of motion. If you sit a lot, then they aren’t moving as much. Even if you’re walking, cycling, or swimming, chances are you’re still only moving your hips in the same direction most of the time. If you don’t move your hips in the patterns in which they were designed to move, the bone is sent the message that it doesn’t have to maintain as much density.
BOOST BONE DENSITY
If you’ve been exercising regularly yet developed low bone density anyway, your movement habits need to change:
Choose exercises that work your body in different directions than you’re used to. If most of your workouts consist of walking, try dance, pilates, yoga or t’ai chi once a week to add lateral movement.
Weight bearing is not the same as using weights. There is a lot of confusion on this point. Weight-bearing actually refers to how much of your body weight you are holding up while exercising. For example, walking would be more weight-bearing than riding a bike. And swimming is the least weight bearing exercise, as the buoyancy of the water is doing most of the work to hold up your body.
The term “using weights” can mean any type of resistance exercise – whether it be elastic tubing, body resistance (like push-ups or yoga’s arm-balance poses), weight machines or circuit equipment.
Because the skeleton’s job is to hold the entire weight of the body, lifting three, five, or even 20 pound weights is not as important to bone health as is being strong enough to carry your own body mass.
Do the treadmill instead of an exercise bike for part or all of your workout. Walk the golf course instead of getting a cart. Stand up and do some stretches or knee lifts while you watch TV, rather than sitting on the couch the whole time. Stand at the sink to do your make-up rather than sitting at a make-up table.
The most significant health risk for anyone with low bone density is the risk of a fracture. Falling can definitely lead to fractures or bone breaks, so balance exercises to help prevent falls should be at the top of your exercise list. Try using a “wobble board” or include moves that strengthen one side of your body at a time.
When you start a new balance program, it may take a while for your body to gain the muscle control and strength to keep you steady. Start by standing on one leg while leaning against a wall or holding onto a chair, in time increments your body can handle. If you don’t have the strength or stability to stand on one leg, work on developing your muscle strength before you try to balance on one leg.