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Stay Strong, Stay Young

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Have you ever missed a checkup with the dentist only to suffer a cavity a short while later? Too often, we look after our bodies the same way.

Have you ever missed a checkup with the dentist only to suffer a cavity a short while later? Or missed a regular maintenance check for your vehicle only to be stranded because of a mechanical problem? Too often, we look after our bodies the same way.

This is especially true for women who are at risk for a disease such as osteoporosis, which causes a decrease in bone mass density and puts women at a potential risk of bone fractures. The good news is that you can take preventive steps immediately to avert unnecessary suffering.

It’s commonly believed that bone mass begins to diminish in the latter years of life. The fact is bone mass levels peak for women at approximately 25 years of age, but begin to diminish at a rate of one-per-cent per year thereafter. Numerous studies show that exercise is effective for increasing bone mass and preventing osteoporosis.

Research also suggests that children and young adults should exercise regularly to aid in the prevention of this disease. One study has even suggested that exercise is even more effective than calcium intake to help increase bone mass in teenagers. A combination of the two offers maximum results: a daily intake of 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium is recommended for girls and women from 12 years old until death. This is best in a calcium/magnesium supplement that includes vitamin D.

Specifically, exercise programs that include weight bearing exercises and aerobic activity can prevent bone loss. One study of two groups of women between the ages of 50 to 70 found that those who participated in weight bearing and aerobic activities gained one-percent more bone density, while those who did not perform any weight bearing exercises lost an average of 2.5-percent bone density.

Rapid bone loss is associated with muscle degeneration. Experiments have discovered that absolute bed rest in young adults for as short a time as one week can lead to a one-per-cent loss in spinal bone density. It can take as long as four months of mobilization to regain the density. Low-impact resistant training exercises, such as weight lifting and weight bearing exercises, and skipping or walking, are therefore a must for a fitness programs. Be cautious with jogging because it puts strain on the body, which may lead to a decrease of bone mass. Low-impact activities such as swimming or bicycling, although effective for promoting other health benefits, don’t involve weight bearing and therefore do not benefit the bones.

An exercise program performed three times a week will increase the strength and density of bone mass. Increased strength also helps to improve balance, thus reducing the risk of fractures due to falls. Numerous studies on body builders have found that those who make strength training a regular part of their routines have much higher levels of bone density in all areas of the body. The concept of “overloading” a certain area of the body to develop muscular strength also causes a greater stress on the skeleton, resulting in an increase in bone strength.

A simple but effective weight lifting routine should include back extensions, leg press, squats, lateral pull downs, bench press or dumbbell press, and the seated row exercise. Perform two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions for each exercise and follow this up with five minutes of a weight bearing exercise such as jumping rope, walking against a grade on a treadmill, or aerobic activities that include strength training. I

n addition, yoga and tai chi are low-impact activities that promote balance and strength. One study found that people who practice tai chi were 50-percent less likely to fall then those who did not. Before beginning any new exercise routine, consult your health care practitioner to assist you in developing a program that will meet your needs under professional supervision.

Dr. Miriam Nelson’s book, Strong Women Stay Young (Bantam, 1997), is a good resource that provides examples of key exercises for bone health.

Regardless of age, resistance training and low-to-moderate weight bearing exercises will promote increases in bone mass. If you want to improve your health - don’t wait until you have no choice - take care of yourself now. Simply getting out for a brisk walk three times a week will help to reduce the risk of bone fractures, but to attain maximum results, strength training is absolutely essential for developing bone mass. This will save you from a lot of pain and help to retain your youthful mobility and energy levels well into your later years.

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