The Monticello Institute
from Dr. Peggy Winston, Ph.D.
Out Weak Bones
some muscle into your bone-building program
used to run daily, but took up swimming after a couple of bad ankle sprains.
I feel I'm better off avoiding all that hard impact, but my former running
partner tells me swimming will soften my bones. That sounds so odd — could
it be true?
with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, strength training is key to
won't literally soften your bones, but it's not the most effective exercise
to combat osteoporosis, or a gradual weakening of the bones that often
debilitates older women. To best prevent that dire development, you need
exercises that put more stress on your bones, but that seems to create
a dilemma for someone with joint problems. Do you save your joints with
non impact exercise, or stick with higher impact exercise for generating
really strong bones?
what will it be? Jogging? Skipping rope? High impact aerobics? Plyometrics?
Polka dancing? All excellent regimens, but for anyone with bad ankles or
knees, the idea is horrendous. Not to worry — try bodybuilding or progressively
adding increased resistance to your swimming and other non impact aerobic
exercises. You simply need weight-bearing (not joint-jarring) exercise,
and a bodybuilding program lets all your muscle groups bear weight.
about walking, which is often recommended to combat osteoporosis? Brisk
walking used to be considered adequate to protect bone density, but it
may not be enough. Even so, it does help and it's still a great fitness
activity that's relatively easy on the joints, even for those who can't
do high impact activities anymore. If even walking is too hard on your
joints or you have specific problems, however, check with a doctor or physical
therapist about specific exercises to rehab your bad joints and to strengthen
your body overall.
now shows that, along with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, strength
training is key to strong bones. A top expert on the subject, Miriam Nelson,
Ph.D., with the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at
Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts), says two weight-training sessions
a week of less than one hour each are enough to build and maintain muscle
and bone strength.
fact, says the exercise physiologist and co-author of Strong Women Stay
Young (Bantam, 1997), the more muscle you have, the more bone density
you'll have. But you don't need to build bulging muscles to build your
bones. You just need to build and maintain a basic level of strength. This
will help you maximize your bone density now as a hedge against losses
in later life.
regimen includes some bodybuilding standards like the lat pull-down, leg
press and overhead press, with additional emphasis on hip abduction and
adduction. If you don't have access to these machines, you can work the
muscles using ankle weights or cables. You may feel that you're working
your legs and glutes enough with stair-stepping, squats or leg presses,
but abductor and adductor exercises put a different emphasis on the muscles
now, everyone should know that she or he needs calcium for bone strength.
Despite all the publicity, many of us don't get enough. Vitamin D is also
crucial for bone health, and many supplements combine the two nutrients.
But you should still do more. Susan E. Brown, Ph.D., in Better Bones,
Better Body (Harvard, 1996), lists 18 nutrients essential for healthy
bones, including magnesium, zinc, manganese, boron and copper, and of course
calcium and Vitamin D. Intakes of these nutrients are generally inadequate,
she points out.
general, a well-balanced diet that's good for your health is good for your
bones. But you need to pay attention to bone-building nutrients and especially
get 1,000–1,500 mg calcium and 400–800 IU Vitamin D daily, along with other
minerals, Brown advises. You should also avoid bone-robbers, which may
cause the loss of bone density. These include smoking, excess alcohol and
even excess caffeine. With caffeine, at least, getting extra calcium appears
to counteract any calcium loss.
foods are excellent sources of bone-building nutrients: Nonfat milk and
yogurt are popular calcium sources; nuts have magnesium, manganese and
Vitamin E; and whole grains have manganese and zinc. Yet the newest bone-health
food is onions! A recent study in the journal Nature found that
onions helped prevent bone dissolution (called resorption) and increased
bone density. The Swiss researchers hope to isolate the active compound
so people won't have to eat up to three onions a day. Large amounts of
certain other vegetables, including broccoli, also helped to protect bone
density. But how much broccoli can a girl eat every day?
for your swimming, keep it up, but include devices and techniques to progressively
increase the resistance, alternate with weight workouts 2–3 times a week,
and for variety add in some brisk walking a few times a week. Nutrition
and lifestyle are also critical for healthy bones, as they are for a healthy
body in general, so heed the advice above and in "Bone-Building Basics."
with your active lifestyle. The concept of "use it or lose it" applies
to both muscle and bones. Inactivity leads not only to increased bodyfat
but also to a loss of muscle (and then of bone density). As Brown states,
"Remember, bone mass and muscle mass increase and decrease together." With
a healthy lifestyle and your combination exercise regimen that's easy on
your joints, you could be miles ahead of your old running buddy at the
fitness finish line.
Do weight-bearing exercise regularly. Moderate exercise several times a
week may be better than strenuous exercise only once a week.
your calcium and Vitamin D. You need both to build and maintain bones.
Getting all your calcium from food is hard, so supplements are useful.
Many contain both nutrients.
a balanced, varied diet.
get too thin. Being underweight and the often related condition of amenorrhea
(lack of periods not due to menopause) can accelerate loss of bone density,
even in young women.
drink much alcohol.
your relative risk. If you have a relative with osteoporosis or its symptoms
(hunched back, loss of height, easily broken bones), ask your doctor about
evaluating your risk and additional treatment options if necessary.
aware of medical conditions and medications that can affect your bone density,
such as thyroid disease or corticosteroids used for asthma.
menopause, bone density may begin to decline rapidly. When that time comes,
talk with your doctor about possible hormone-replacement therapy or other