We all lose bone mass when our bone density peaks in our 30s. In fact, after age 40, men and women lose 1.5% to 2% per year, which is considered a small loss. The difference is that women are at greater risk than men of losing much more bone mass due to our smaller size and menopause when we lose estrogen and progesterone. Both of these hormones play an important role in maintaining healthy bones. Estrogen suppresses the production of osteoclasts, the cells that break down the bone and slow the activity of existing osteoclasts. Progesterone, on the other hand, boosts the production and activity of cells that build new bone or osteoblasts. If you have an estrogen/progesterone deficiency, which you can find out with a 24-hour urine test, you may want to consider a bio-identical hormone replacement by a credential pharmacy.
After getting enough of the right nutrients in your diet, which I described in my last blog post, you want to develop an exercise program that emphasizes weight-bearing and resistance exercises. When we exercise or lift weights, the force of muscles pulling against bones stimulates the bone-building osteoblast process.
The research shows that postmenopausal women who engaged in resistance training exercise for one year increased their bone mass density (BMD) between 1% and 3%. This is enough to offset the progressive bone loss of 1% to 2% per year after age 40.“Getting physical will stimulate increases in the width of the bones and their ability to absorb minerals throughout the rest of your life,” says Lara Pizzorno, MA, author of Your Bones.
Types of Exercise
You want to choose physical activities in which you move against gravity and your muscles contract to provide resistance against your bones. Dynamic movement is key. Examples include rhythmic movement such as dancing (Zumba), power walking, jogging/running including in racquet sports, climbing stairs or using a Stairmaster/elliptical, and riding a bicycle. You want to move at a fast pace to increase the frequency of your muscle contractions and bone-building.
Static movement such as holding certain yoga poses (i.e. child’s pose) doesn’t increase the stress on your muscles enough to build bones. However, holding the plank may be an exception.
Unfortunately, swimming, which is another gentle form of exercise with other benefits, involves the water bearing on our weight rather than our bones. But, I still swim in addition to engaging in dynamic exercise several times a week.
Pilates is a gentle precise program, which provides intermittent muscle contractions and isolates muscles to build bones, according to Pizzorno. “Pilates uses both our mobilizing (muscles that move us) and stabilizing muscles also known as the “core” muscles.” Pizzorno recommends avoiding the standard Pilates programs and finding Stott trained Pilates instructors who specialize in osteoporosis. She describes a program in her book that can strengthen rather than weaken your bones. (see Resources for link to interview and her book).
I found a Bone Smart Pilates DVD program (see Resource link below) designed by physical therapist and trained dancer Teresa Maldonado Marchok specifically to prevent or reverse osteoporosis. The DVD includes both mat and standing exercises such as lunges and squats. I also bought the flex bands for resistance.
Weight lifting certainly provides resistance but achieving a certain threshold is important to get the bone-building benefits. For example, I was using 3 pound weights for the past few years. Not surprisingly I was soon breezing through my sets of 12-15 reps because the load wasn’t challenging my muscles. After listening to Debra Atkinson during my recent podcast interview (see Resource link), I took it “up a notch” and now lift 5 pound weights and “feel the burn” with just one set of 8-10 reps per muscle group. Also, remember when switching to heavier weights, to start out slow with one set of 6 to 8 reps to avoid straining your muscles.
What to avoid
Form is very important especially if you have osteopenia/osteoporosis. You want to focus on extension movements which are straightening movements that increase the angle between body parts. You want to avoid flexion movements that compress the neck and spine such as rounding your spine forward, twisting to the left or right, and bending forward to touch your toes. Also, avoid the crunch position in sit-ups and the One-Hundred in Pilates. Research shows that flexion exercises increased the risk of fractures by 89% while extension exercises significantly lowered the risk of fractures to just 16%.
Use it or Lose it
The research shows that if you stop exercising, you can lose the gains you made in bone mass density. So, exercise regularly and consistently. Knowing this, I bring my running shoes when I travel to make sure I get some jogging in. I plan to do some powerwalking in Paris!
BoneSmart Pilates DVD program with Teresa Maldonado Marchok
Podcast interview with Lara Pizzorno, MA author of Your Bones