Because my patients can’t see their skeleton, they often don’t give much thought to keeping their bones in optimum condition throughout their lives. This lack of foresight can have a tragic and lasting effect on quality of life as they age. Our bones are our foundation and protection. They are the framework that encases and protects our heart, lungs, brain and reproductive organs. If we can keep our bones healthy and strong, we can increase our chance of having a long and active life.
Muscle and Bone – Connected
As we age, our bones lose mass. Low hormone levels – testosterone in men and estrogen in women – are one cause and if this loss is premature, hormone replacement therapy can help. But this is not the only cause of bone mass loss.
Another primary cause of bone loss, and one that is reversible and preventable, is through disuse atrophy. Muscle and bone are connected. The constant pull and push by strong lean muscle puts a good kind of stress on bones, and this strengthens them. But, if you adopt the couch potato life-style – you snooze, you lose – your muscles atrophy and your bones suffer.
One of the more inconvenient and dangerous mishaps that can happen to you is breaking a bone. I am not talking about brittle bones breaking – osteoporosis is a subject I previously covered in depth here – I’m talking about bones breaking because you’ve fallen. You fell because you lost your balance. And you lost your balance in part because you lost your muscle tone.
A test I like to give my patients is the balance test. Stand on one foot, arms out to the side and close your eyes. If you are forty or older and can hold your balance for fifteen seconds – you’re a winner. Balance (or lack of it) is an indicator of your bone quality. Why? Because strong, lean muscle is a major factor in having good balance. And strong muscles make for strong bones.
A Two-Prong Plan of Attack for Healthy Bones
Your bones need both exercise and a diet containing lots of calcium from dairy products and dark leafy vegetables, like spinach, for optimum strength.
Bones perennially renew themselves. New bone cells replace old bone. This process, called remodeling, needs an electrical charge to take place. That charge comes from weight-bearing exercises to build the muscles that stress and strengthen bones.
I cannot emphasize enough how a steady regime of moderate to strenuous exercise will improve nearly every aspect of your health – and quality of life. A daily brisk walk provides weight-bearing exercise for your lower body (your legs are bearing your body weight). Hefting grocery bags, pushing a lawn mower, swinging a golf club or a tennis racquet – are all good overall weight bearing exercises. Join a gym and invest in a few sessions of personal training to learn the right moves.
There are three essential nutrients for optimal bone health – Calcium, Vitamins D and K. Calcium is the building block for bone mass. A daily supply of 1000 to 1200 mg is an excellent insurance policy for strong bones. Our skin, exposed to sunlight, manufactures Vitamin D, but many of us don’t get enough of it. Vitamin D is essential in preventing loss of calcium through the kidneys and is the key to allowing calcium to leave the intestine and enter the bloodstream. Vitamin K helps move calcium from your bloodstream into your bones.
All of the above are present in a dairy laden, leafy green rich diet. But most of us don’t get enough bone-friendly nutrients through our diet. I know I don’t. By adding a daily supplement of Calcium with Vitamins D and K and exercising regularly, I know am on track to preventing further bone loss and I plan to live a healthy, active, vibrant life for many years to come. Won’t you join me?
Mark Bromson, M.D.