I have broken two bones in my life. The first occurred at the age of 8 on an elementary school playground. I lost my grip in a game of tug-of-war and fell backward, breaking my elbow on the pavement. One cast and a few weeks later, and I was as good as new.
I broke the second last summer, almost exactly 40 years later, while training for an endurance cycle event. I took a sharp turn too quickly, flew off my bike, and shattered my collarbone. Two surgeries, two plates, and several screws later, I learned that I although I am fit and active, I am going to have to be a little more diligent about bone health — specifically osteoporosis. Thanks, early menopause!
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the sharp decrease in estrogen that women experience at menopause is a contributing factor to bone loss, and it increases our chances of developing osteoporosis. In fact, studies show that of the approximately 10 million Americans living with osteoporosis, 80 percent are female.
The good news is that it’s never too late to do something about bone health — and one of the first places to start is the weight room. Studies show that strength training can help slow bone loss and encourage new bone cell growth.
“Strength training works the musculature as well as the body’s frame, or our bony skeleton,” explains Dr. Thomas DeBerardino, sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon in San Antonio, Texas. “Bones, like muscle, respond favorably to an appropriate force or strength training regimen, and react by getting stronger and denser.”
Where to Start
If you think you don’t have the time or you don’t have a gym membership, don’t worry. Dr. DeBerardino says there are plenty of exercises you can do anywhere, anytime, that help build bone. He suggests wall squats, yoga, pushups, and isometric core-building moves like planks. “You can do any of these on a quick lunch break or right next to your bed before sleeping or right upon awakening,” he says.
Dr. DeBerardino also recommends regular walking, cycling, and low-impact aerobic activity, combined with adequate rest, sleep, and a solid diet. He also suggests asking your doctor if a calcium supplement is right for you. That way, if injury should occur, the body is in a healthy state to heal.
“Healing is a team effort, meaning all the systems in our bodies need to constantly work in concert to keep us healthy and heal an injury or deficiency when required,” he says. “The whole team gets dragged down if any one component is hurting, and this results in prolonged healing and recovery time.”
The longer the recovery time, the longer the time away from strength training and other exercises that the body needs to help prevent injury in the first place. So begins a vicious cycle. If you are not already strength training, there is no better time to start. If you are, make sure you are also addressing the other aspects of your physical health to keep your body working, performing, and healing at its best.
Bonny Osterhage is co-founder and small-group trainer at BodyArchitecture Personal Training and Fitness in San Antonio, Texas.