Login | March 19, 2018

Bone health

Pete’s World

Published: February 26, 2018

This week I’d like to talk about the rather mundane, yet very critical topic of bone health. And don’t get the idea this is a conversation that’s confined to women. Nope, you guys need to pay attention to, because when we talk about bone health we’re talking about a subject that’s not gender, nor even race specific. That’s right, the malady of osteoporosis can affect anyone and everyone - period.

The Cleveland Clinic defines osteoporosis as “A disease that weakens bones, putting them at greater risk for sudden and unexpected fractures. Osteoporosis results in an increased loss of bone mass and strength. The disease often develops without any symptoms or pain, and it’s usually not discovered until the weakened bones cause painful fractures. Most of these are fractures of the hip, wrist and spine.”

And according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis and low bone mass affect 44 million women and men age 50 and older in the United States. Again guys, read that last sentence slowly - the one that mentions women AND men.

After 50 years of age, one in two white women and one in four white men will have an osteoporosis-related fracture. And though African-Americans have a slightly lower risk for developing osteoporosis, a quite low single digit difference actually, they’re still at a significant risk of developing the disease in their lifetime.

So what to do? First, understand the insidiousness of osteoporosis is the fact that it’s an exceedingly slow, silent process where more bone is being broken down and removed from the skeletal system than is being built up and added. This shadowy disease can proceed for decades before any outward signs become apparent. And the hard truth here is that you cannot make a complete reversal once serious bone damage is done. Second, know that osteoporosis is far easier to prevent than to treat.

With this being said, let’s look at the “what to do” question by focusing on this preventative side. And the simple answer for prevention is exercise, specifically exercise that is weight bearing. When I say weight bearing, I’m referring to two different exercise modes here, cardiovascular and resistive.

The cardiovascular mode entails exercises that raise the heart rate. Then when you factor in the weight bearing dictate, our selection of activities would include running, walking, golf, dancing and racquet sports to name but a few.

Now the best way to use these activities to promote increases in bone mineral density is to incorporate occasional bouts of interval training - increasing the intensity level for short intervals. This can be accomplished by increased pacing and/or simply going up and down hills, all of which will place the appropriate forces on the bones to stimulate bone density increases.

The restive mode entails working with free weights, weight machines or even your own body weight. Recent peer-reviewed studies have overwhelmingly confirmed that these workouts should be done at a high enough intensity/weight to stimulate bone growth. And the easiest way to accomplish this is to do fewer reps with heavier weights and/or to increase the difficulty of the exercise.

I can attest to the fact, having trained a diverse mix of individuals for 20-plus years, that most individuals who I’d label as “non-competitive athletes,” didn’t lift as much weight nor workout at the higher intensities that they could - or should. My advice to this group has always been the same: Get out of your comfort zone and challenge your body.

What’s more, make sure to include resistance exercises for the areas of the body that are most prone to fracture: spine, hips and wrists.

Finally, keep in mind that Pilates and Yoga can also help to stave off the effects of osteoporosis. By carefully selecting the proper exercises and poses, you can improve bone density in the very same way you would with resistance training. This occurs because of the pulling effect that muscles and tendons have on bones. These forces can cause the bone to grow. Thus, the stronger the muscles, the stronger will be that stimulation to the bones.

As you can see, prevention is indeed the best medicine with regard to osteoporosis. And more importantly, the time to think about prevention is now…not one to two decades down the road. Think bone health today.