For some, this is the year of the Water Rabbit.
For me, it’s the year of strong bones.
This is the year I am going to do everything I have learned about rebuilding bone and keeping them flexible from podcast experts and reading books like Dr. Lani’s Bone Health Guide and Better Bones, Better Body, by Dr. Susan Brown.
Bones get taken for granted until we get our first DEXA scan.
More often than not, after 50, at a minimum, we will be given a diagnosis of osteopenia. This marketing term simply means we have less bone than a healthy 30-year-old woman.
Why do we always get less of the good stuff?
Osteoporosis is an actual diagnosis of bone loss but, according to docs like Dr. Susan Brown, it does not guarantee a fracture. The medical industry won’t tell you that. Mostly they create fear about the future and our ability to remain upright, so we don’t fall and break a hip.
Breathe. Even if you have significant bone loss, it is possible to rebuild bone.
First a tribute to the bones.
They are more than just hard bits of calcium that help to hold us up and move us around.
On a recent podcast episode, Dr. Susan Brown said, “Bone is like a very metabolically active tissue, like a storehouse for these key nutrients that keep us alive on a minute-to-minute basis.”
Here are just a few underappreciated functions of bone:
They suck up toxins so they won’t circulate and cause damage.
They produce blood cells
Bone protects organs from damage. Think skull, ribs, pelvic bones
Bones release minerals when we need them
They can even store and release fat when energy stores are low
In the past few years scientists have discovered “that bone is an essential endocrine organ controlling a panoply of physiological processes, such as energy metabolism, adipogenesis, neuronal development, muscle growth, and male fertility.”
Once I’d learned about the many ways bone is integral to overall health, coupled with scoliosis and a diagnosis of osteoporosis of the hip, my inner wisdom said, it’s time to give some love to these strong, flexible, versatile parts of me.
So, what’s the plan, Stan?
More strength training, weight bearing activities, a few dietary changes.
You’ve heard a million times that weight training is important as we age. Not just for strength but to keep the resting metabolic rate high to burn calories at rest.
Weight training is also important for your bones. Weight training and weight bearing exercises pull on the tendons which pull on the bones causing them to get stronger. Muscle strength and bone strength go hand in hand and someday, rather than using a machine which takes a picture of a bone (DEXA), practitioners will test muscle strength as a measure of what condition the bones are in.
For now though, here are the various things I’m adding to my daily routine.
- Wear my weight vest at least one hour per day while I move around. Not sure what a weight vest is or why you might want one? Check out my article here.
- (3) 20-minute sessions per week of weight training. We’ve got a Total Gym (It’s a little dusty…) so it’s easy to follow the card deck to get a full range of upper and lower body exercises
- 5 10-minute (min) sessions on our vibration plate.
What’s a vibration plate and what are they good for? Imagine you are standing feet hip width apart on a platform which looks like a big scale that vibrates at different speeds while you either stand, squat, or do other exercises.
Here’s one citation of their use from the NIH, “Whole-body vibration (WBV) increases the level of growth hormone and testosterone in serum, preventing sarcopenia and osteoporosis. Vibration exercise also increases muscle strength and neuromuscular coordination.”
I found more science that found positive results from using a vibration plate than found none, so I’m in.
- Walk! My step count is way down during these cold months but pounding the pavement, dirt roads, or our treadmill (also dusty…) is like mental floss. And the pounding is a free weight bearing exercise whose benefits go far beyond bone health.
What about the alkaline diet for bone health?
The jury is out on whether following an alkaline diet to help maintain the pH level of the fluids in your body at an optimal level works. The body does a good job balancing our Ph levels, but I can’t help but be attracted to the idea that eating a balance of alkalizing foods — think plants — is a good idea if I also eat plenty of acid producing foods. (Meat, eggs, fish, coffee, dairy, wine, occasionally bread or pasta).
Salads full of crunchy lettuce, radishes, and cucumbers are a regular feature in our house as are crucifers steamed, roasted, or sauteed. Where I fall short is dark green leafy veggies and raw things at this time of year.
So, I’ll have my peanut butter snack on celery and add cauliflower and cabbage to our salads. When I’ve got kale or spinach on hand, it’s easy to add to soup.
All in all, not an onerous number of activities and food additions to add to my routine. I’ll still bike for cardio and hang in my aerial yoga swing for fun and core work.
There will be days I prefer to stay right here at my computer rather than love my bones. On those days I will go pick up the 38# sack of cat sand that seems to have gotten heavier lately as a reminder that if I notice I’m getting weaker in one area — arms — there are places I won’t notice until it’s too late. Think legs and back.
Besides, there’s a bonus for my extra effort. I will be stronger and might restore muscle tone where there is currently a layer of marshmallow fluff.
The Chinese zodiac predicts the year of the water rabbit is a year of prosperity and peace. I’ll take it and add strength and flexibility for many years to come.