Let’s talk about . . . building strong bones.
I know that most of you are already very aware of the risks of developing osteoporosis and osteopenia (a pre-osteoporosis condition) as we age. (And even if you think you’re still too young and the risks of developing osteoporosis are way off in the future, well. You’re not too young and the risks aren’t that far off. Just sayin.)
I’m not going to go into a lot of background information about osteoporosis (there are plenty of good online resources you can consult if you need more information; here’s one), but I do want to talk a little bit about risk factors. After all, osteoporosis is called the “silent disease” because it doesn’t carry any symptoms . . . until you break a bone and find out you have it.
Some of the risks of osteoporosis are genetic or biological, and you can’t do much about that. (Osteoporosis is more common in postmenopausal women of Asian or European descent, for example.) Other risks are related to certain medical conditions you may have, or medications you take to treat them. (Again, you’re kinda stuck there.) And some risks are related to the ways we choose to live our lives. (Smoking and drinking alcohol increase the risk of osteoporosis, for example, as does a sedentary lifestyle.)
The important thing . . . is to assess your risk. Find out if you are a likely candidate for osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor. Get a DEXA scan (a special x-ray to measure your Bone Mineral Density). And start taking some serious action to build up your bone mass and slow down your bone loss!
I want to interject here for a minute . . . to explain why osteoporosis assessment and prevention are so near and dear to my own heart. As I’ve explained before, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis – and that is one of those medical conditions that puts me very much at risk of developing osteoporosis. And the medications I’ve been taking for years to control my RA . . . increase my risk even more. I’ve been getting DEXA scans for several years now, and I’m watching my BMD (Bone Mineral Density) figures decrease. Even though I’m not yet in the osteopenia category, my rheumatologist has started me on a short term preventative treatment regimen so I can find a holding pattern against further bone loss.
You know what else I’m doing?
(And you already know what I’m going to say . . . )
According to the Mayo Clinic (and this is another great online resource, by the way). . .
Exercise can help you build strong bones and slow bone loss. Activities that put weight through your spine are most beneficial and may include walking, running, dancing, skiing, jumping rope, tennis or other racquet sports. Adding resistance exercise, such as weightlifting, resistance bands, yoga or push-ups, just twice a week to your routine also can stress your bones in a good way to help keep their density. Exercise also helps improve your balance, which may prevent falls.
So. It’s not just any old exercise . . . it’s weight-bearing exercise that helps build bone mass and slow bone loss. That means . . . my Peloton cycling doesn’t help me with my bone health (although it’s great for my cardio, and easier on my joints than running, so I’m not giving that up). What I (ahem . . . we all) really need are simple exercises we can do regularly to “stress our bones in a good way.”
And, yep. Walking is great – and it is weight-bearing (where cycling is not). You should be walking as much as you can. But walking, alone, isn’t enough to “stress your bones in a good way.” Recommended weight-bearing exercises that work to increase bone mass? Weight training and . . . jumping.
I know that once we hit our 40s and 50s . . . it’s hard to think seriously about . . . jumping. But it turns out that jumping (and not all that much jumping, actually) is the ticket for building bone mass! Landing from a jump causes an adaptive response in your body that actually builds bones (it’s that “stress your bones in a good way” thing). And one of the most fun ways to jump? Maybe you’ve already guessed . . . It’s jumping rope!
So. Here’s my challenge to you . . .
Get hold of a jump rope. And JUMP . . . every day.
According to trainers and bone specialists, you don’t need to jump much to reap the benefits. Just . . . 20 jumps per day! (Every day.) Mathew Welch, exercise physiologist and certified athletic trainer, has this to say about jumping rope . . .
Any kind of strength training or jump training when you’re postmenopausal can help improve your bone mineral density and muscle mass, and maintain your estrogen levels. By participating in an activity like jumping rope, you are exposing your bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles to a stressor to which they can positively adapt. Gradually, over time, you turn on certain genes that help regulate estrogen production and can even delay age-related losses in bone density and muscle mass.
Here’s what I did:
I got a jump rope (this one for $8.76).
I cleared a safe spot on my patio.
And I jumped 20 times.
That first day . . . it was . . . not pretty. I felt sluggish and out of breath and silly out there. I jump-roped like a fiend when I was a child . . . but those 20 jumps? Super challenging for 64-year-old me! But you know what? It didn’t take too many days before it felt easier – and fun! I don’t usually want to stop after 20 jumps anymore. I keep going for a while. It’s fun. Silly. But fun. I keep my jump rope near my patio door, and I just run out there and do it. It takes less than a minute; two minutes if I’m having fun. (I do recommend, though, that you pee first!)
So . . . get hold of a jump rope. Find an open spot with no obstructions. And just do it! 20 jumps (and they don’t have to be in a row!) every day will make a huge difference in building up your bone mass. (And it’s fun, too.)
See what happens!
2023 Monthly Fitness Challenges
Looking for Monthly Fitness Challenges from 2021-2022? I’ve moved them! Now you can find them in the Field Notes section of the blog (just click on Field Notes in the top menu) and look for Monthly Fitness Challenges 2021-2022.