Strengthen Your Bones

We know that it’s a natural process for women and men to lose some density from bone after the age of 35. Research has shown that through regular, weight bearing exercise it is possible to prevent some of the dramatic loss often occurring in women over 50, largely due to the fall in levels of the female hormone oestrogen at the time of the menopause or earlier if there has been a premature menopause brought about by hysterectomy. Genetic inheritance and other factors can also contribute to bone loss.

Weight bearing exercises or movements which use the body’s own weight help preserve or even build bone. The effect only occurs when the weight is repeatedly exerted, muscles attached to either end of the bone force it to twist and bend in response to the strike action and jarring movements. This stress-strengthening effect boosts the bone if sufficient calcium and vitamin D are available in the body.

Simple brisk walking, skipping or running use a hard, vibrating strike action, with the weight of the upper body borne by the spine, hips, legs and feet. A push up uses whole body weight to strengthen shoulders, arms and wrists. Recent studies have shown that pre-menopausal women who were encouraged to do a series of little jumps for a controlled period of time, on a regular basis, significantly increased the bone density of their ankles, knees and femoral head (hip).

Specific bones can be targeted still further by introducing additional weights. For example, exercising with dumb bells puts extra demand on the arms and wrists. So does carrying heavy bags of shopping (so long as you keep a straight back, pull in your tummy muscles and don’t stoop). Lifting household objects, like heavy cooking opts or the vacuum cleaner has a similar Bone Boosting effect. Twisting off a tight lid on a jar helps wrists and forearms so adapt everyday activities and objects and turn them into your own Bone Boosters!

In controlled studies when 90 young men were immobilised in bed from 5 – 36 weeks after examination they were found to be losing 5% of bone mineral content a month. At the conclusion of the studies both bone and muscle strength gradually returned with normal activity. Bed bound people lose less bone density if they get up every so often, and standing gives greater benefit than sitting. One piece of research showed that healthy young males alternating bed rest with “quiet standing” for 2-4 hours reversed the bone loss.

Are you right handed? No prizes for guessing which of your arms is stronger. When measured by bone scanners, upper arms of male baseball players aged between 8 and 19 showed a difference in strength according to the arm used. So did those of professional tennis players and the strike leg of professional footballers. When nearly 100 elderly women practised squeezing a tennis ball for 30 seconds a day, they increased forearm bone density by up to 5.3% in just 6 weeks. Grip strength improved even more dramatically – up to 19% increase. But it was truly a case of “you’ll lose it if you don’t use it” Measuring the bone 6 months after the exercise routine stopped showed a loss of the previous gains in bone density.

The floating weightlessness which astronauts experience in outer space may look like fun but has serious health consequences. The lack of stress on the bones in the gravity free environment causes bone loss up to the tune of 2% for every month of flying time. To make up for it, pre-space training programmes included Bone Booster exercises.

The Carnegie Enquiry (1992) into the state of health of the Third Age states “Appropriate exercise can delay or reverse physical decline and restore fitness among older people. Many people between 50 – 74 are too unfit to benefit fully from the recent gains in years of life expectancy. If they moved about, walked and climbed stairs for a total of 60 minutes a day, they would be fitter, healthier and enjoy a much more active and independent life style”. So do your bones a favour and make exercise a part of your daily routine. Walk, play tennis, go dancing, play golf, try cycling, rowing, sail boarding or weight training. Take up Yoga, skate or ski, or simply hop, skip and jump. Specific bones can be targeted still further by introducing additional weights.

To be effective exercise must be on a regular basis – some physical activity should be undertaken for an hour at least once a week, but preferably, 30 minutes at least 5 times a week. We need to keep active. All exercise is good is good for us – inactivity isn’t. Research has shown that through regular weight bearing exercise it is possible to prevent some of the dramatic bone loss experienced after the menopause. Simple brisk walking, skipping or jumping use a hard, vibrating strike action, with the weight of the upper body borne by the spine, hips, legs and feet. A push-up uses whole body weight to strengthen shoulder, arms and wrists.

Studies by Dr. Joan Bassey at Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham have shown that pre-menopausal women, who were encouraged to regularly do a series of little jumps over a controlled period of time, significantly increased the bone density of their ankles, knees and femoral head (hip). Arm exercises using small bottles of water as weights puts extra demand on the arms and wrists. Swimming is good for all round fitness and even people with physical difficulties and osteoporosis can exercise safely in water with their body weight supported by the water.
N.B. But unfortunately swimming doesn’t boost bones due to the lack of gravity.