From what I’ve seen, exercise is one natural approach that is as good as any drug for preventing and reversing osteoporosis. Exercise is so important to my Better Bones program that I am dedicating much of the coming year to sharing with you my cutting-edge perspectives on exercise and bone strength. Let’s start by talking about site-specific exercise and its benefits.
If you want to build certain bones with exercise, you should build strength in the muscles that attach to that particular bone. For example: to increase spinal bone strength, strengthen the back extensor muscles; to increase hip strength, strengthen the muscles around the hip; and if you want to strengthen the jaw bone, the answer is not to talk more, but to eat hard foods like raw carrots, almonds, and other nuts. Here are the details.
In a 2006 study at the University of Oregon, premenopausal women participated in different combinations of upper and lower body resistance training, doing increasingly strenuous exercise with exercise machines, weighted vests, resistance tubing, and by simply jumping. All exercises loaded the hips to some degree, but only the upper body exercises loaded the spine. The result was that all women built hip bone density, but only those doing the upper body strengthening exercises built spinal bone density.
So what about the hard food-jaw bone link? I thought this bit of research was both novel and revealing. A Swiss researcher removed the ovaries from female rats — an action known to bring on instant menopause and immediate bone loss in humans as well as rats. He then fed them either soft food or hard food, with the same nutrient content. Sure enough, the hard food eaters maintained jaw bone density even without ovaries, and the soft food eaters lost bone as one would expect with instant menopause. I had the pleasure of interviewing this researcher at a recent conference this past October, and he likened the soft food to “bread” and the hard food to whole grains.
For the next few days, I could not help but notice that certain foods caused me to chew more and with greater impact than others. Whole nuts versus nut butters, fruit with skin versus peeled fruit, and steel cut oats versus oatmeal all gave me a better jaw work out. Chewing awareness is not a new idea. Long ago, Traditional Chinese medicine prescribed “clicking your teeth 100 times a day to strengthen teeth and gums.” If you’re concerned about a specific bone in your body, the answer is to support your body with great nutrition and build the muscles around that bone, even if it means crunching through a whole plate of raw carrots every day!
Winters, K M, & Snow, C M. 2006. Site-specific response of bone to exercise in premenopausal women. Bone, 39(6), 1203-1209.
Mavropoulos, A, Rizzoli, R, et al. 2010. Normal masticatory function protects the rat mandibular bone from estrogen deficiency-related bone loss, Annual Meeting of ASBMR, poster presentation SA0060, Toronto.