If you’re already working out or following an exercise program, most likely you’re focusing on muscle and fat. But underneath that muscle and fat are your bones. Your bones don’t respond “visibly” to your exercise routine, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important for overall health. Exercise has a great influence on your bone health, appearance, and well being.
Osteoporosis (gradual loss of bone mass), is a common affliction in women. It leads to smaller bones, shorter height, a “hunch back” look, and the possibility of broken bones after middle age. With osteoporosis, bones become less dense, and therefore less strong. According to Sue Grossbauer, RD, the risk of osteoporosis increases after menopause, when estrogen levels decline. In fact, about half of all women over age 50 develop bone fractures as a result of osteoporosis.
To protect bones, medical researchers recommend a routine that includes at least one of three types of exercise:
- Weight bearing exercise, such as walking, hiking, jogging, stair climbing, skiing, jumping rope, and dancing. These types of exercises are more apt to improve bone mass than any other physical activity, as they put both gravitational and muscular stress on your bones.
- High-impact exercise – tennis, baseball, and soccer.
- Weight lifting – resistance training, weight machines or dumbbells. Even household chores that require carrying heavy items, such as groceries and children, are included in this category.
If you’re currently not involved in an exercise program, or you simply want to add more physical activity to your daily routine, then:
- Walk more often – to the store, work, social events. Get off the bus a few stops earlier. If you drive to the store, park far from the entrance.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- While watching TV, use the treadmill or exercise bike. Or do stomach crunches and light calisthenics.
Of course, exercise is only one aspect of keeping your bones healthy. You also need enough calcium and vitamin D. Don’t wait until menopause to start thinking about calcium – developing bone mass in your younger years gives you the reserve to draw on later. When thinking about calcium, most women automatically think “milk”. Sure, low-fat milk is a good choice, but there are other foods that give you the calcium needed to keep your bones strong.
- Yogurt and frozen yogurt offer 200-400 mg./cup of calcium. To maximize nutrition, top with slices of fresh or canned fruit. Make dips for veggies with plain, low-fat or no-fat yogurt, using your own spices (dill, onion, garlic – or a Ranch powder).
- Soy foods are gaining in popularity – not only is soy good for your bones; it’s very heart-healthy, too. Tofu has 250 mgs. per half cup and calcium-fortified soy milk has 200-500 mgs. per 8 oz. Firm tofu can be chopped up and used in stir-fries; silken tofu can be blended with fruit in a blender for a nutritious, calcium-packed smoothie, or blended with spices to make a great dip for cut-up veggies.
- Enjoy naturally high-calcium foods such as sardines or canned salmon. Dark green veggies are another source – kale, spinach, bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, chicory, broccoli and acorn squash. Get creative with legumes – chickpeas & pinto beans. Sprinkle almonds on top of your oatmeal. Make desserts using figs or blackstrap molasses.
- Use low-fat cheese on sandwiches, make quesadillas for a quick lunch or dinner, or sprinkle some cheese on a salad (use fresh spinach to really give your salad a boost of calcium!).
- For a nutritious snack, whip up a smoothie in the blender using milk or yogurt, and some fruit. Or have a piece of string cheese and some crackers. How about a nutritious, low-fat muffin with a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice?
If you are concerned about getting enough calcium – maybe you don’t drink milk or eat some of the foods mentioned above – taking a calcium supplement is a must. However, it is NOT a substitute for high calcium foods, so eating the right foods is a better choice.
To get the best calcium absorption, take only 500 milligrams at one time. Your body may not be able to absorb larger doses at one time. Take calcium pills with meals to make sure your stomach acid breaks down the supplement. Calcium citrate is generally easier to break down.
If your calcium supplement doesn’t contain vitamin D, you should take 200-400 units of vitamin D per 1000 mgs. of calcium, as vitamin D is necessary for the efficient absorption of calcium.
Taking the antacid, Tums after each meal is an easy way to reach your calcium goal. Consult your doctor to find out which type of supplement is best for you.
Take care of your bones and they will provide you with the strong, sturdy frame needed for life. No bones about it!