Move for your Bones

Compact bone & spongy bone

Image via Wikipedia

As more of us live beyond our 80’s, our bones become an increasingly important element of healthy ageing.  The statistics (found here) are just as dire as the obesity epidemic.  The good news is that although we all stop accumulating bone mass at age 30, there are scientifically proven methods of maintaining a strong and functional skeleton for as long as you have breath in your lungs. 

The average adult human skeleton is made up of 206 bones.  The talus is the only bone in the body with no muscular attachments.  This means that the other 204 bones you possess are under varying amounts of muscular force at any given time.  Muscular force is the pulling, twisting or bending force that an attached muscle inflicts on the bone when it contracts.  The other type of force is Ground Reaction Force (GRF).  GRF is the force originating from the ground that is transferred upwards throughout our skeletal structure.  There are more forces under these two classifications, i.e. torsional, shearing, axial compressing, etc.  For the purpose of this concept, just know that the ground creates a force on our bones from the outside and our muscles create a force on our bones from the inside.

This is important to note because the demand (force) we impose on our bones in our daily lives is the only way we can encourage the remodeling of spongy bone to compact bone.  Yes, remodeling is the true scientific term…look it up.  Your bones are constantly being broken down by some cells (osteoclasts) and built up by other cells (osteoblasts).  This is the body’s way of ensuring you only have as many precious minerals devoted to structural support as you need based on the current demands of your daily life.  There is a finite amount of Calcium in your body.  If it all was deposited in to your bones, there would be no way of contracting a muscle to act on said bone.  This is why physicians tell their patients to walk and resistance train for their bone health.  Through exercise, you communicate to those osteoclasts to leave a little bone tissue to keep you upright through all 18 holes this weekend.

Bone is a living, breathing organ.  We tend to think of it more like a bunch of white rocks stacked up in a particular fashion.  Even when we discuss supplementation (Calcium and/or Vitamin D), we still picture little particles of Calcium floating around in our blood and being deposited on various parts of our skeleton.  The truth is, we have far greater ability to create a bone building environment within ourselves than we think.

ashes, ashes, we all fall down…

Provided that you don’t overindulge on processed foods that lack minerals and/or blindly supplement your diet with random vitamins you find in the bargain bin of your local mega mart, your bones will stay dense enough to support your body in an upright position until you die.  We do not need to rely on walkers, rascal scooters or robo legs to carry us across the finish line of this race called life.  We seem to assume that osteoporosis and osteopenia are inevitabilities that we all must succumb to as soon as we reach a certain age.  This is plain false.  We didn’t go through millions of years of evolution to rise to the top of the food chain only to be limited to 70-90 years by a perpetually crumbling skeleton.

Several fractures such as this have been associated to use of bisphosphonates

Since all but one bone two bones (you’ve got one talus in each foot) are attached to muscles, this means that even if you are in outer space, you can maintain your bone density by regularly using your muscles and properly nourishing your body.  You don’t have to spend all your money on medication that may or may not work.  You may have heard of drugs like Fosamax after your doctor read your paltry numbers from your DEXA scan.  Sure these drugs, called bisphosphonates, improve mineral density but what exactly does that mean?  The only thing these drugs do is improve your DEXA score.  They promote the retention of minerals in your bones but they do not work together with the innate wisdom of your body.  They merely stop the resorption of bone by the osteoclasts.  As you recall, osteoblasts work with osteoblasts to maintain healthy levels of bone density in proportion to the imposed structural demand.  If you shut off the osteoclasts, you also shut down the osteoblasts.  This can lead to more brittle bones and eventually to fractures.

Walk your way to bone health?

Some health professionals promote walking for bone health.  The idea is that the repeated impact with each step will signal to your bones that they need to “beef up”.  The truth is that the evidence is just not there to support this low-intensity mode of exercise as an effective bone preservation strategy.  I suppose that for somebody considered sedentary, (Click here to see if that’s you) walking would provide some positive bone remodeling effect in the first few weeks.  My only fear is that in promoting walking for bone health, we may lull those at risk of fracture in to a false sense of security; just as improving your DEXA results with bisphosphonates does.

She's got healthy bones. Click to see how you can too.

It is crucial to incorporate a safe amount of running and resistance training in to your daily life.  This is most effectively done with the coaching of an experienced fitness professional.  If your bones are porous to begin with, your program must be fine tuned to weigh your needs with your abilities.  If you are simply moving to prevent osteopenia, you needn’t be so structured.  The beauty about moving for your bones is that you don’t need to worry about number or sets, duration or intensity like you do when training your cardiovascular system.  Cardio training involves at least 3-5 systems at one time.  The mode rate and volume of exercise must be carefully designed in order to evoke a desired adaptation response by the body.  Bone density training however only involves one system; the musculoskeletal system.  All you have to do is move your bones at any given point in the day.  Of course you get out of it what you put in but any little bit adds up to a total daily demand that your body comes to expect.  Demand more of your bones on a daily basis and your body will reward you with a couple hips that are less likely to fracture.  

Wiggle your toes at your desk.  Reach for the sky and pull on that shoulder girdle and ribcage.  Every little bit helps and you get quite a stretch on your muscles at the same time. 


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Truth in Movement

We as rational beings must construct instruments through which metaphysical truths can be viewed. There is much in the universe that we can not explain through objective measures. Some mysteries have been solved by our advancement in technology but there still remains many uncertainties about our lives here on Earth and beyond. Wherever exists a lacuna in the science of the day, you will find a theory, religion, dogma, prescription drug, weight-loss method, diet and exercise plan or snake-oil on the market. We must realize that all of these methods are but lenses of varying clarity to absolute truth.
Just as there is no flawless lens, there is no flawless method of achieving fitness and health. The health industry is saturated with those who are more interested in profit rather than health. I am not just talking about commercials you see on late-night TV. The entire health industry from the FDA, AMA, HMO to thigh-master, ab-circle, George Foreman grill, etc. are corrupted with those who purposefully direct science and ignore inconvenient outcomes so that they can go to the public with a claim that will make them money. Just think of all the prescription medication that makes it to the market and then is re-called because it actually does more harm than good. The reason modern medicine is constantly changing is two-fold. First of all, the subjects in the experiment (we the people) are not a true control group. Our food sources and environment has changed more in the last 50 years than it has in the last 10,000. The second reason is that our current system of research is so tainted, either by private money or governmental grants, that laboratory results simply do not pan out in real life.
For these reasons, I approach everything I encounter in health and wellness with a grain of salt. (of the Celtic Sea variety that is) We can not become fanatics about anything. My experience thus far in the health industry has been in the western medicine setting. I have had conversations with doctors and pharmacists who are convinced that there simply is no other way to be healthy than to take pills and cut fat from your diet. When I try to present a different point of view, their defenses go up not because what i say makes no sense; it’s because what I am saying threatens everything they have spent unimaginable hours studying for. I don’t charge them with malicious ignorance. I just think that it is easy for us to get so entrenched in our life’s work that we stop learning once we’ve been convinced to follow one methodology or another. The same goes for academics. So much of a persons worth and legacy goes in to the research they will conduct and the studies they will produce. The pursuit of novelty can be very dangerous because then you are not so much concerned with whether you produce truth that will work in the real world. The main concern is if it has been done before. Of course ingenuity has saved many lives but as we continue to try to outsmart God and nature, we can become drunk with notoriety and sacrifice the cosmic intelligence inborn in our food, ourselves and our planet.
Our physical bodies are the housing of our mind and soul. It is the outward expression of every emotion we feel, every disease we encounter and every triumphant victory we accomplish. Doctors, healers, shaman, and therapists are all specialists who have studied the subtle communication between our mind and bodies. When we get sick, it’s our body telling us that there is a bacterial growth, viral attach, nerve impingement, chemical imbalance, or synthetic toxin somewhere in our tissues. Most of us have abdicated our responsibility to listen to our bodies when they speak to us. Many of us know we feel unwell but have no diagnosable pathology. We may not express any detectable symptoms but we know we are not at optimal health. It’s sad to realize once you have attained true health for the first time in your life, that for all the years that were, you were not living to the fullest. I was lucky enough to experience this vitality in my early 20’s. Now, anytime I feel myself slipping, I know exactly what to do for the remedy. Everybody is as different on the inside as they are on the outside. We know that we all require different ratios of macro nutrients in our diets. Exercise is no different however, it is not as varied from person to person as diet may be. We all need to move. That is what Moving For Wellness is about. You can be a hiker, biker, swimmer or climber but you need to move your body doing what you enjoy. The only time exercise becomes exercise is when it is so structured that it becomes “work”. Our jobs give us enough stress; we don’t need our work-outs to give us more. If you have trouble sticking to an exercise routine, it is probably because you are not moving how your body wants you to. Too much in the fitness industry is centered around rep counts, time intervals, rest periods and weights that we figure that if are not doing exactly the right thing, we shouldn’t even bother at all. All the science you hear from fitness professionals is mostly for athletes. The only scientific conclusion you should concern yourself with is that 2.5 hours/week of moderate exercise is related to increased measures of health in humans. If you find yourself unmotivated to exercise, I would say quit asking others (fitness authorities) for an exercise plan. Get outside and try different things. Take some time to get to know your body and how it likes to move. You have to be honest with yourself and not just try to avoid hard work. Once you have an idea, then go consult with a trainer or coach to learn how not to injure yourself. There are but a few simple rules of bio-mechanics that our bodies sometimes ignore to take the path of least resistance. The ultimate truth however is that nobody knows your body better than you can. Feel it and experience it’s greatness through exercise and you may be able to attain vitality and absolute health.

Senior Movers

A Chinese broom and sweeping tool, found in Yu...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ADL’s (activities of daily living) vary greatly from person to person. Some of us can do most of them with one arm tied behind our back. For others, they may be getting more challenging with each new day. As our baby boomer population reaches retirement age, ADL’s will become more and more difficult given the current average waist size in America. Our ability to perform the sweeping, dusting, washing and waste disposal can be called our ADL fitness. For some, just reading these simple tasks initiated a raise in blood pressure and a bead of sweat on the forehead. There are many barriers to performing ADL’s. The ADL fitness program will address all levels of ability and all parameters involed. Cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, range of motion, and phychological wellness are some of the main focal points of ADL fitness.

It is an inevibility to age. We can do nothing to stop it. All we can do is slow it’s effects. When examining the deleterious effects of having birthdays, it is easy to see a negative correlation. Our physical bodies are finite and begin deteriorating once we reach our 30’s. Do not despair at this grimm notion. A wise man once told me that the only reason to despair is if you are powerless. This program will give you many tools to not only slow the effects of aging but make worthy gains as well. This will not only better your helath but inevitably lead to a state of physical and mental wellness.
We as humans are capable of great things. We have built temples, pyramids, aqueducts, amphitheaters within many great civilizations. The evolution of homo sapien 250,000 years ago brought about an unprecedentedly sophisticated organism with the ability to reason and imagine. Since then, man’s mind has dreamt and his body has built.

This apparent dual nature of man is one of the defining differences between western and eastern thought. Zarathushtra, Plato, Aristotle and Descartes all contemplated the idea of an immaterial mind within an extended body. The relationship defined was not necesarily dicotomous however the mind was thought to be the essence of the being. This ideology, while true in my opinion, has led us to our current culture of corpreal neglect. Our Western civilization has seemingly tilted more and more towards elevation of the mind and devolution of the body. Despite our overly materialistic culture, we have trivialized the value of our own external beauty. We look at Hollywood with both awe and contempt for it’s emphasis on the esthetic. I argue that this is a major reason todays Hollywood stars go to such lengths to promote and participate in philanthropic causes. It is a compensatory instinct to show themselves and the world that their exquisite physique is not an indication of a self-indulged character. A healthy body is seen as a selfish persuit.
We are trying to deny our natural affinity to beauty. Whether motivated by religious conservatism or an altruistic attempt at non-prejudice, we try to ignore the fact that the beauty that is a physically fit human body is something we are drawn to. Behaviorists have proven that if we look good, we will feel good. Studies have also shown that those who are more attractive are often more successful. A persons success, provided that it is acheived by honest means, can be an indicator of their level of self respect and happieness. Dennis Prager, author of Happieness is a Serious Problem, argues that happieness is a moral obligation. When a person is unhappy, it spreads to and offends others just like bad breath or body odor. Physical fitness can also spread and positively affect both the self and others. A fit and visually pleasing body is a catalyst in the feed-back loop that is self improvement and for a lucky few, self actualization.

One of the biggest fears of the aging individual is the loss of independance in any capacity. The assumption is that we will all someday become the grandparents we remember pushing in their wheelchair, feeding lunch to, or maybe even bathing. The body deteriorates not by a fixed timeline but by a decending curve affected by the imposed demands of day to day living. It is easy to label ourselves weak and feeble however we must realize that doing so is a life sentance to a steady loss of independance. After a certain age in early adulthood, we are all in decline. The beauty of it is, that with the right habits and knowledge of human kinetics, we get to determine from which height we will begin our decline. The more excuses we make for ourselves, the more time we will spend relying on others to perform our activities of daily living. Let us all embark on the mission to improve our ADL fitness!