Exercise and lifestyle
By Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD
Better bone health begins when you lighten your load
In our day-to-day routines, many of us habitually act in ways that have profound,
long-term effects on our bone health — without
even realizing it! Some people regularly spend an hour at the gym or go for a run
in the early morning — unknowingly giving wonderful benefits to their bones.
Other people routinely spend hour after hour late at night in front of a computer
screen instead of sleeping, knowing that the double espresso they buy every morning
will clear out the cobwebs — but completely unaware of the stresses this habit
places on their skeleton. Still others exercise and get adequate rest, but work
under highly stressful conditions and unwittingly deplete their bone mineral reserves
by eating a quick fast-food lunch at their desk every day. All of these habits,
good or bad, can have a significant effect on our bones. But where the bad habits
are concerned, we often don’t realize that the effects are cumulative —
they add up over time — or that multiple lifestyle factors can eventually
form a very heavy burden on our bones. The image below, showing the burdens that
lifestyle, diet, and other factors place on our bones, might be something of a wake-up
call to some people!
To a certain extent, an otherwise healthy person can offset some of his or her unhealthy
habits by eating good food and making sure to get the full spectrum of
essential nutrients for bone health. But if you’ve had a fracture,
a diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia, or even simply reached the understanding
that you need to improve your bone health, developing healthy lifestyle habits is
a crucial step in the right direction.
By now, nearly everyone understands that smoking cigarettes, eating a lot of fatty,
sugary foods, and drinking to excess are unhealthy habits. It’s also no secret
that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to disease on all levels. Some people even
recognize that stress and negative emotions — anger, resentment, fear, grief,
and depression — can generate serious health problems, and indeed we find
that the people most likely to have thin bones are those who are habitually worried
and stressed. The association between these unhealthy habits and emotional states
has been well documented scientifically, and we’ve seen in clinical practice
how they can impact bone health (see our article on the
causes of osteoporosis). But even if you know you have these factors, what
can you do about them? How do we change ingrained habits and emotions, particularly
if they’ve been with us a long time?
Total load model of bone-depleting factors ©2009.
click here for a printable version.
A bone-building program you can live with
The first step to changing our lifestyles toward a healthier alternative is to recognize
the places that need changing. The second step is to understand that it will take
time and may not be easy, but if you’re committed to it, you can succeed.
True lifestyle change may require months or even years of vigilance. Behavior change
does not happen in one step. Rather, we tend to progress through different stages
on our way to successful change. Also, each of us progresses through the stages
at our own rate.
If you are looking for ways to improve your bone health, our “total load model”
of bone depleting factors can be helpful. Click on the image of the overloaded camel
for a printer-friendly version and print it out. Take a few minutes to look at all
of the bone-depleting lifestyle factors this camel carries, and circle the ones
that apply to you. These are the factors that might be affecting your bone health.
Identify one factor you would like to work on first — one straw you would
like to take off your “camel’s back.” Next, jot down three to
five reasons why altering this lifestyle factor would be good for your bones and
your entire body. Finally, develop a simple action plan — for example, decide
that, beginning today, you will walk 15 minutes twice a day, or include 1 cup of
vegetables with every lunch, or lower your coffee intake to one cup a day and use
green tea as an alternative beverage if you really need caffeine. Develop a simple
approach that makes one change at a time and notice how empowering this feels. You
will find that each small life-supporting change builds on the others to help you
build bone strength the way nature intended.
Original Publication Date: 01/02/2009
Principal Author: Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD