Phil Carville: Breaking bones
As Jane stepped off the curb, she felt a sudden, intense back pain. At that moment she did not know that she had fractured a vertebra in her back and would suffer acute and chronic pain for the rest of her life.
Jane, not her real name, was in her 60s and felt fairly healthy. She was not overweight but had noticed that she was starting to stoop in her standing posture which she attributed to “normal aging.”
Unknowingly, Jane had osteoporosis and had been losing bone mass for years. Osteoporosis (the word comes from the Greek for ‘porous bones’) is a systemic skeletal disorder characterized by low bone mass leading to bone fragility and consequent increase of fracture risk. The bones that most commonly break are vertebrae, forearm, wrist and hip.
Studies show 44% of older adults have low bone mass and that 50% of woman and 25% of men will break a bone due to osteoporosis. The risk is higher among Caucasian and Asian women and that 70% of those over 80 are affected.
Osteoporosis itself has no symptoms. Your bones are living tissue that is constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn’t keep up with the loss of old bone. It is hard to tell that you are losing bone density.
As your body ages your bones and muscles naturally weaken. Bone loss for women increases after menopause due to lower estrogen levels. Osteoporosis may also occur due to certain diseases or treatments including alcoholism, anorexia, kidney disease and other issues. Certain antiseizure medications. chemotherapy and others can also increase the rate of bone loss.
When you are young and your body is growing, your bones and muscles get stronger. That is a natural process that often we do not think about. As Mark Twain once said “Youth is wonderful. It’s a shame that it is wasted on the young”.
But as you age, your bones can remain strong if you continue to put them under stress. By that I mean your bones will respond to stress by increasing the amount of bone mass. Just like a tree exposed to excessive wind will build up cellulose to counteract the force of the wind. Your body does the same when your bones are exposed to stress.
There are no cures! But there are ways to strengthen your bones and even reverse bone loss in some situations. The two most important ways are a healthy diet and strength-conditioning exercise.
You really know this already, but let’s take diet first. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and protein rich foods, et cetera. Remember some of Michael Pollan’s rules about food: Rule 20: “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car” or Rule 58: “Do all your eating at a table.”
You can help your body to build strong bones and also slow bone loss. Exercise will benefit your bones no matter when you start. You will gain the most benefit if you start exercising regularly when you are young and continue to exercise throughout your entire life.
The best exercise to increase bone density is strength training. That means having the courage to pick up some weights and learn how to use them. I see vibrant elderly women and men in the gym lifting weights, using machines, increasing flexibility, swimming, taking classes such as Tai Chi, Muscle n Funk, yoga, out on the pickleball courts… anything that makes your muscles work.
Your muscles are attached to your bones. When you make those muscles work, they place stress on your bones… that is what makes your bones respond and add additional bone density.
Remember what Yogi Berra said about baseball and life: “It ain’t over till it’s over”.
Start weightlifting today!
Phil Carville is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club. He is happy to respond to comments or questions. He can be reached at email@example.com
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