Monday, May 18, 2009

Dem Bones, Dem Bones

If you're a woman, you have no doubt heard about osteoporosis, the disease that turns your bones into Swiss cheese. That is certainly a non-medical description, but basically true. Typically we equate the probability of suffering from the disease with old age and if we aren't old, then it's one concern we can put on the back burner until we become "old." Not.

You probably already know where I'm going with this - this is another disease that has its roots in our family tree and the lifestyle we engage in for many years before our hair starts turning gray and the skin around our eyes begins to crinkle. So for reference, here are some of the risks factors that can make us more vulnerable to osteoporosis:

  • being small framed or thin most of your life (is this just wrong?)

  • being postmenopausal

  • lack of physical activity

  • low calcium intake, low Vitamin D intake/exposure

  • smoking

  • excessive drinking (alcohol)

  • family history of the disease

  • early menopause

  • are white or of southeast Asian decent

  • if you have had an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa

  • being treated for another condition using certain prescription drugs

  • age

This list doesn't mean that if some of these apply to you that you will definitely suffer from the disease at some point or that if you have none of these that you won't. More than half of all women over 50 years old break a bone due to osteoporosis. But that also means almost half don't. The main thing is to take action however old you are or however you have been living up until now. Don't assume anything other than you have more control over this than anyone else.

The reason I mentioned that you may not be worrying about this if you are, say, 17 years old, 29 or 34, etc. and you should be worrying, is that our youth is when we need to be actively building a foundation and then managing it. As children we build bone and the denser we can build it via eating calcium rich foods, getting plenty of exercise outside, the more we have to draw from later in life. We women start losing bone around 30 years old - just very small amounts early on but after menopause it can go into overdrive. So do pay attention to it if you are in your twenties, thirties or forties. Research has shown that regular exercise over a lifetime can really contribute to slowing down bone loss later. So can eating calcium rich foods like low-fat dairy, cooked kale, oats, broccoli, soy, almonds and more over a lifetime. Sunlight contains lots of Vitamin D, but always wearing sunblock filters it out. (Another injustice!) So if you don't feel comfortable or can't be out in the sun for fifteen minutes a day or so without it, then getting it through other sources is important and you probably need to anyway, sun or not.

Both calcium and Vitamin D are available in supplements. Talk with your doctor about how much you should take when you look at all your factors. Make sure you are taking high quality, natural vitamins that absorb well.

The right kind of exercise is important. Weight-bearing exercise using dumbbells or weight machines in the gym or at home is a must. It not only helps bone density, but keeps those muscles strong so that if we do slip or lose our balance, we have the strength to recover and not fall. Striking activity such as walking, running, stair climbing, high-impact aerobics such as Jassercise or cardio-kickboxing is great for your bones. Cycling and using eliptical machines are great cardio, but do little for dem bones. Cardio is important, too of course, and I always recommend you do a variety of exercises every week to touch all the important areas of health.

Finally, be sure you are getting your bone density measured by at least 50 years old - sooner if your physician recommends it. It's called a dexascan. IF you find that even if you have conscientiously applied all of the above and you are still losing serious bone density, consider talking to your physician about taking a prescription drug that stops bone loss or can rebuild bone.

The main thing is - take action! Love on dem bones. Love your kids' bones.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great reminder! Guess I will keep going to the gym!