Stay strong and balanced for life
Nicole Palacios, BSc
Strength and Balance are two important facets of physical fitness, and they're especially important for long-term health in women. Reduce your risk of injury later in life with regular exercise now!
The idea of falling and breaking a hip may seem eons away, but it’s never too soon to begin an exercise program for better strength and balance. If you read the health reports about women and aging, you’ll see how many of these stories relate to unnecessary broken hips and wrists from falls. According to research in Norway, women are far more likely than men of the same age to break a wrist seriously enough to need surgery, and the risk becomes greater for women as they age. Falling injuries happen to many seniors, and would be a much less serious issue if bone loss, excess joint degeneration, and loss of balance were not also an issue. Hard landings on tile and wood floors can be a major problem combined with these symptoms.
Estrogen plays an important role in bone health. It protects bones and helps keep them strong and healthy. Because women have more estrogen (a female hormone) than men, they have different issues with bone loss. When estrogen levels drop, many women lose bone density. This can happen during women’s teens and early twenties if they often miss periods due to low estrogen levels.
During midlife, women’s estrogen levels begin to drop during perimenopause, which can begin as early as in their thirties, though it usually starts at around 40 to 44 years of age. As menopause approaches, estrogen levels continue to decrease, and following menopause, estrogen production is almost completely stopped.
It’s been estimated that Caucasian women lose about one-third of their hip bone density between the ages of 20 and 80. This means that a woman’s chance of breaking a hip increases as she ages—but prevention is at hand!
Ensuring bone strength, joint stability, and balance are important themes for women, starting at a younger age than you might think. Because bone is living tissue, and your body can build new bone, the earlier you start laying down new bone tissue, the better chance you’ll have to decrease the risk of injury and osteoporosis later on down the road.
What you eat can make a difference for your bones and joints. It’s important to eat a balanced diet with plenty of calcium (found in dairy, sardines, leafy greens, and nuts) and vitamin D (found in fortified products and fatty fish) to build bones.
Don’t smoke! Smoking can cause the body to make less estrogen, which is important to bone health (not to mention the havoc smoking creates for other body systems).
Drinking too much alcohol can damage bones and increase falling risk. When we have too much (2 to 3 ounces of alcohol every day), the stomach is less able to absorb calcium (critical to bone strength). Alcohol also affects the liver (important in activating vitamin D, which is critical for calcium absorption).
Starting a strength training regimen to keep the joints supple that also includes balance exercises is extremely beneficial for women in their younger years. This will help increase bone density and joint strength, while creating lifelong exercise habits.
Research has shown that resistance training provides the greatest increase in bone density. Muscular strength improves bone strength as well.
Working out with weight-bearing exercises will increase both bone and muscle strength—along with confidence and body awareness—while also helping with weight control, something that also impacts joints.
Balance exercises are a fun way to prevent falls. They’re also a great way to challenge yourself with new things. I like to put my personal training clients on BOSU balls, squishy discs, or on one leg, and get them to close their eyes. The more variety the better!
Try the following top exercises for both strength training and balance.
Harder: Close your eyes.
Really hard: Stand on a BOSU ball placed dome side up (DSU).
Harder: Stand with one foot on a squishy exercise disc.
Really hard: Stand on a BOSU ball placed dome side down (DSD).
Harder: Hold dumbbells in your hands.
Really hard: Stand on a BOSU ball, placed DSD.
Harder: Roll farther out to your feet.
Really hard: Place one leg on the ball and one in the air.
Easier: Go on your knees or alternate arms.
Harder: Increase the weight.
Really hard: Lift your opposite leg off the floor as you row.
Women need to be even more vigilant than men when it comes to taking care of their bones, joints, and balance, which are all intertwined. With a regular routine of weight training, eating well, and taking joint supplements, if needed, as well as practising regular balance exercises, young women should pave the way for their older selves—for a long and healthy life.
Your local natural health store carries a variety of supplements for bone and joint health. These are just a sample. Be sure to consult a health care practitioner before taking supplements.
Calcium builds bones and helps keep them healthy. Not only does calcium help to build bones, but it’s also important for strong muscles and a healthy heart.
Vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption. Both work together to prevent bone loss. Most people don’t get enough vitamin D (it’s very difficult to get enough through our diet), especially if they live in an area of the world without much sun.
Magnesium is a critical component of our skeleton and is often missing from our diet. Some researchers suggest a magnesium deficiency could impair bone mineralization and be a risk factor for osteoporosis.
B vitamins help keep blood levels of homocysteine low, which may lower the risk of osteoporotic fractures.
Vitamin K helps modify protein so it can bind calcium.