Healthy Woman: Strong Bones

Imagine if a headline read, “30-Year-Old Woman Diagnosed with Osteoporosis.” You’d probably think, It can’t be. It must be a misprint. You may have thought osteoporosis only strikes little old ladies, but this silent thief is sweeping the nation, largely due to unhealthy lifestyle habits starting in childhood. It’s literally stealing bone out from under us at astonishing rates. But unlike wrinkles, gray hair and other common effects of normal aging, osteoporosis is not inevitable. It can be prevented, slowed and even reversed if the proper steps are taken now, while you’re young.

Tone Those Bones 

The National Osteoporosis Foundation defines osteoporosis as “A disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and increased susceptibility to fractures.”

Since you’re already strength training, you’re enjoying the benefits of a toned physique, but did you realize you might be ahead of the bone-density curve? Lifting weights is an important means of preventing osteoporosis. Think back to the last time a callus developed on your heel. This was simply your body’s response to the mechanical stress your shoe placed on your heel, therefore creating a thicker skin to protect itself. A similar phenomenon occurs with bone. When lifting a weight, the muscle pulls on the tendon to which it’s attached, and that tendon then pulls on the bone. This mechanical loading in turn makes the bone grow thicker and gain mass to protect itself while under stress, thus leading to stronger bone.

Laura Dembo, MS, and Kathleen M. McCormick, PhD, report in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal that increased bone density comes from strength training programs that utilize a weight greater than 70% of a person’s one repetition maximum (1RM). Programs using 40%-60% of the 1RM didn’t build bone as effectively.

Bone-Building Exercise

Physical activities that create an overload on the skeleton by using a muscle’s pull against gravity provide the best means of osteogenic (bone-developing) stimulus. Research demonstrates that weight-bearing activities utilizing muscular strength and muscular power create a greater skeletal response than activities involving only muscular endurance. Swimming and cycling aren’t nearly as effective at increasing bone density since they’re considered non-weight-bearing exercises.

Weight-bearing activities such as running, gymnastics, tennis and plyometrics (explosive training that involves jumping and bounding) are the types of exercises essential for good bone health. The catch is you want to perform weight-bearing exercises at an intensity or speed that places high forces on your skeleton. Be aware, though, that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Overtraining using intense cardiovascular activity can result in amenorrhea (loss of menstruation) and a hormonal imbalance that’s detrimental to bone health. Severe dieting and a low bodyweight can have the same effect.

Keeping Your Peak

If you’re in your 30s, you’ve probably reached your peak bone mass – the thickest your bones will ever be. At menopause, which typically occurs at ages 40-55, women who don’t take replacement hormones begin to lose bone at a rate of about 3%-7% per year due to a decline in the hormone estrogen. Those who don’t build as much bone as they can by the time they turn 30 may later turn into a frail old lady crouched over a cane, with a large hump protruding from her back!

The best way to avoid osteoporosis is early intervention. The most critical time to build bone is the teenage years. Unfortunately, this is also the time when many people develop the bad habits of drinking soft drinks and alcohol and smoking, all major factors in decreasing bone density.

To determine where you stand in terms of bone health, Bob Goldman, MD, DO, PhD, chairman of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, suggests utilizing bone mineral density testing beginning in your 30s, an earlier age than normally recommended. This will help predict your chances of developing osteoporosis in the future and help you do something about it now.

Other preventive strategies include ensuring your diet is rich in the bone-building vitamins B, C, D and K, and the minerals copper, zinc and magnesium. Robert P. Heaney, MD, professor of medicine at Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska) and author of Calcium and Common Sense, stresses the overwhelming importance of calcium in the diet, noting that in addition to calcium supplementation, kale juice and cruciferous vegetables are highly bioavailable sources.

Understanding these concepts and taking the steps to prevent osteoporosis with diet, exercise and a good relationship with your physician are keys to a strong, healthy body. No bones about it!

Author bio: Carol James, writer and editor EssayLab

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