By John L. Boos, L.M.T., N.S.C.A., C.P.T.
As we age, our health becomes a growing concern – at least it should, if our quality of life is of any issue. Our chronological age, our eating regimen, and our activity level all play a major role in the aging process. Getting older is inevitable, but aging is optional. Science is confirming this reality more and more each year. Of course, there are a number of age-related concerns. Some receive more attention than others, but that doesn’t mean they are more important.
One of these concerns is bone loss or osteoporosis, especially among women. The body possesses an intricate process for building and maintaining our bones. Osteoporosis occurs when that process falters and the natural breakdown and build-up ratio of the bones swings over from maintenance to a system that is unable to sustain bone density. This condition can be attributed to genetic or nutritional causes.When bone loses density and becomes frail and porous, it threatens the structure of the body…like the framework of a building becoming too weak to support everything that is attached to it. In the construction world, the building would be condemned and torn down. But the human body is not a building. It’s alive and capable of repair. Just like the building, things attach to the framework (the bones). Our bones provide us with protection, as well as with levers enabling us to move. Bones don’t move themselves. Muscles provide the movement through their attachment to the bones. It’s not hard to see how important bone strength is.
There are many health related issues each person can take control of. Of course, one must start with the doctor’s approval and monitoring assistance. Osteoporosis happens to be one of those health issues that can be addressed with diet and exercise. It would benefit women over 40 and men over 50 to have their bone density measured, at least for a mean line measurement for future reference. If the disease is too far advanced, then medical attention may have to be the primary approach – hence, the importance of getting a bone density scan sooner rather than later. As for osteopenia (low bone density) or early osteoporosis, a well-structured resistance exercise program, coupled with an increase in dietary calcium, can work wonders. Everyone has heard the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Like most things in life, there is an equal and opposite effect on our actions, so, as in this example, “If you use it, you keep it!” Bones will get strong and stay strong if you encourage them to do so. You have to put them to work with resistance exercise (weight training). Walking, swimming, biking, and other aerobic exercise won’t cut it. In fact, recent studies show that if that type of exercise is your only source of exercise, it can be detrimental to bone density. That low level activity increases cortisol levels. This breaks down the body. Higher intensity activity increases the hormone levels that build up the body. If low level exercises are the only exercises performed, this may lead to accelerated bone loss. Working harder will make your bones harder.
Increasing the body’s calcium uptake to encourage increased bone density is somewhat complex. It takes proper exercise (weight training), plus a number of vitamins, minerals, and hormones – especially calcitonin, produced by the thyroid glands, to generate this process. Hormones are the key factors in making things happen (they manage the process). Vitamins and minerals are the building blocks, the materials for the process. If the exercise that is used is stimulating enough to the bone, then the brain is notified by sensors surrounding the bone to secrete the hormones and locate the materials to start increasing bone strength. But what is enough stimulation to kick this process off? Low intensity exercise has demonstrated in scientific studies to produce little to no results. Higher intensity exercise, on the other hand, produces very good results. What is low intensity exercise? Walking, swimming, aerobics, etc. These activities provide too little tension on the tendon attachment on the bone. High intensity exercise – resistance or weight training – generates adequate tension on the tendon attachment on the bone to stimulate the sensors to release the necessary hormones for bone building. The definition of high enough intensity is using resistance or weight that represents at least 60% of what you can lift safely one time (1 rm or single repetition max). An experienced, knowledgeable exercise trainer can determine your one rep max with a formula. Never try this on your own.
Depending on the severity of the osteoporosis, there are exercises that should initially be avoided. The exercise prescription for osteoporosis is increased intensity of at least 60% of one rm, but safety must be the foremost concern. Proper exercise selection, proper exercise execution, and careful and proper progression must be adhered to. Yes, increased resistance exercise and diet are an excellent prescription for reversing bone loss, but it must be a joint effort between your medical doctor and your exercise instructor. Osteoporosis is a very serious disease that can affect your vitality dramatically. If you elect to address it with drug therapy alone, read about the ramifications. Research is continually concluding that gym therapy, not drug therapy alone, is a very valuable approach to this bone loss disease.
In my own personal experience, I have witnessed what the researchers are now finding. I have a number of clients using the gym therapy approach who have achieved amazing results. Not only has their bone density increased, but their overall strength, energy, muscle tone, and flexibility have increased, as well. Five years ago one of my clients was diagnosed with osteoporosis. She asked her doctor if she could try a diet high in calcium combined with weight training, and forego the prescription drug approach. Her doctor was hesitant, but agreed. One year later, her bone density test was markedly improved. She continued with the weight training and high calcium diet regimen. Her second bone density test (taken at the end of her second year of training) showed additional improvement. She is an example supporting the Tufts University studies in Boston. The only side effects from weight training have been increased strength (she can do 8 pull-ups on her own), lower body fat, increased energy, and improved well-being. Drug therapy, in itself, cannot do that. It’s not only about bone density – it’s about overall vitality and quality of life! Build your muscle, and you will build your bones. Do this, and you will LIVE STRONG AND PROSPER!