How can you improve your body by improving your bones? Part 2

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I’m continuing my series about how supporting your bones helps to build overall health. For one example, simply do any daily activity that involves your muscles.  For another, look in the mirror and smile!  Here are more details about both:

When we’re building muscle, we’re building bone, and vice versa

I believe the way bones grow and decline in strength together is one of the most useful findings in bone health research — and one of our most overlooked opportunities. I’ve shared with you that exercise studies show that women in early post-menopause can not only maintain, but gain an average of 1.5% in bone mineral density in as little as nine months with rigorous strength-training regimes — a far cry from the 2% of lost bone that might otherwise occur.

Many women find that adding variety to exercise also adds enjoyment and the power to stick with their routine. And, scientific evidence suggests we most efficiently build bone mass with a combination of high-impact exercise and weight-lifting. We also know that non-weight-bearing or resistance exercise such as swimming, biking, and isometric exercise all have value, in that they can increase your bones’ flexibility and compression strength. For more information, see my article on exercise.

When you smile, you can learn a lot about your bone health

Smiles originated some 30 million years ago and can tell us a lot about our bone health and overall health. Here are just a few reasons why:

• Receding gums are often an early sign of body-wide bone loss.
• Periodontal disease implies both bone loss and a challenged immune system.
• Periodontal disease is linked not only to osteoporosis, but also to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses such as COPD or pneumonia.

A comprehensive natural program to build bone will not only directly benefit your jawbone, but will also dramatically improve the health of your teeth and gums — and, in turn, lower your risk of long-term heart and lung disorders.

Stay tuned next week, when I’ll share two more reasons how supporting your bones brings added benefits you can’t ignore.


2011: the year of exercise

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One of the things I enjoy doing at the beginning of a new year or a new season is to set an intention for the days ahead. One year, I set myself to meditating regularly. Another year, I decided I would learn more about the ancient teachings of India’s science of life known as Ayurveda. This year, I am focusing on exercise — so, heads up, you’ll be hearing a lot from me about exercise in 2011!

To begin, here are a few simple bone-building exercises you can do at home during these cold winter months. After that I will reveal my own ambitious exercise goals and my plans for expanding the exercise content on my website.

Please remember, though, that if you’re unaccustomed to exercise, you should absolutely talk to your physician about it before starting, and consider working with a physical therapist or personal trainer, at least at first.

Anti-osteoporosis spine strengthener

A favorite spine strengthener is the back extension chest lift. This can be done as illustrated at right, or with your arms by your sides. An advanced version of this exercise uses a weighted backpack, as detailed in a previous blog. Do 10 repetitions a day, holding the pose each time for as long as you are comfortable. You’ll strengthen your spinal muscles and bone, and reduce spinal fracture risk.

Fracture-reducing hip exercises

Exercises that increase the ground force impact strengthen the hip bone. Heel drops, one-or two-legged hopping and jumping, jumping off a 4 to 6 inch tall box or step, and high-as-you-can-go power jumps are all great ways to stimulate leg and hip bone strength. For a short demonstration of these impact hip-builders, see the American Council on Exercise’s video.

Walking with weighted vest

For those who like to walk, you can add bone-building power to your everyday indoor and outdoor walking by wearing a weighted vest, which helps build spine and hip bones. You begin by loading the vest with just a pound or two, and gradually work up to 10% of your body weight. Scientific studies report that using a weighted vest is as good as or better than bone drugs or estrogen treatment (and without the side effects). I’ll be writing a lot more on these vests in the course of 2011.

Plans for 2011

As for my own personal exercise goals, well, they are rather ambitious and include Pilates class three times a week, seasonal skiing and golf, frequent dog walking with a weighted vest, whole body vibration three times a week, and, of course, the 100 hops most days. And my plans for web site additions? Well, when I am not exercising, my goal is to write on the potential of exercise to prevent and reverse osteoporosis. Also, there’s a new Better Bones exercise video in the works! So stay tuned, stay fit! (It’s not too late to make 2011 a year of exercise for yourself, too!)


Hop, heel drop or jump for bone health

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Remember jumping rope and playing hop scotch as a kid? Well, it’s time to think about those activities again, because hopping and jumping are great bone builders. Studies show the bone benefits of these simple forms of exercise. Ten to 15 minutes of heel drops, hopping, or jumping three days a week helps to increase bone density and strength.

Depending on your current fitness level, you may feel comfortable starting with heel drops and working up to hopping or full-fledged power jumping.

Heel drops:

For those who might have experienced fractures, have issues with their knees or muscles, or who may be more fragile for one reason or another, a good modification of hopping is the heel drop. Lift up on your toes and then drop, striking the heel to the ground. It can be a gentle drop or a strong one, depending on the vigor you apply.


This can be done two-legged or one-legged (the latter delivers much more impact). Hop up as much as you are comfortable, and then land on the ball of your foot with your knees slightly bent. Hopping has a milder impact than jumping, so it’s a great way to begin. You might do a few hops and rest a bit, then do more.


Jumping can provide high or moderate bone-building impact depending on how high you jump. Power jumping is a higher impact activity that involves jumping up as high as you can. The motion upward is greater if you swing your arms up above your head (much like the arm motion in Jumping Jack exercises). Like Jumping Jacks, you can land with your feet apart, or you can land with your feet together. Smaller jumps less powerful jumps are more comfortable for the less athletic, yet these also stimulate bone.

Some general guidelines for getting started:

  • Exercise in a safe area. Avoid slippery surfaces or clutter, and always wear sneakers to protect your feet. Take a few minutes to warm up. You might do some calisthenics, brisk walking, jogging in place, yoga, work with weights, or the like.
  • While we aim to work up to 100 repetitions a day, start with just as many as are comfortable for you. Breaking your sessions into two parts and working up to 50 repetitions at a time is probably more effective than one single hopping bout.
  • Hopping and jumping, although simple exercises, are high-impact exercises that those with severe osteoporosis, a history of fracture, balance problems, or back, knee or ankle problems should do under guidance of their health practitioner or physical therapist.
  • If you have any concerns about whether hopping is something you should do given your health status, please consult your healthcare provider before you start.

For more tips on strengthening your bones through movement, read my article on exercise and bone health.


Bone and muscle: Lose them together, build them together

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These days, it seems like the media is full of folks talking about aging bone loss in women. What they seem to often forget, however, is that just as we lose bone mass over time, so we also lose muscle mass — and most often, the two are linked.

Let’s look at the spine as an example. The average woman loses about 47% of her spinal bone mass during her lifetime, while most men lose 30% of their spinal bone density as they age. As for muscle loss, studies estimate that between the ages of 21 and 89, a woman loses 50% of her back muscle strength and a man loses 64%. This is the normal, average loss of bone and muscle in long-lived Americans. Excessive bone loss and the condition of weak bones is called “osteoporosis” and excessive muscle loss and weakened muscles is called “sarcopenia.” The longer you live, the more likely excessive bone and/or muscle loss will become a factor that limits your vitality.

Longer life means a greater chance of losing excessive amounts of your youthful bone and muscle mass, unless you take deliberate steps to head in another direction. An action plan for building the health, strength, and fitness of the entire body is the antidote to age-related losses. If you care for your bones in a natural, holistic fashion, as with my Better Bones Health Package you are actively involved in an anti-aging program.

In our program, everything you do for bone is good for the entire body. Every nutrient you take, every step you make towards developing an Alkaline For Life® eating plan, every physical exercise you do is a move towards preserving bone, muscle, and vitality.



Riggs, B.L., Melton, L.J. III. 1986. Involutional osteoporosis. N. Engl. J. Med., 314:1676–1686.

Riggs, B.L., Wahner, H.W., Melton, L.J. III, et al. 1986. Rates of bone loss in the appendicular and axial skeletons of women: Evidence of substantial vertebral bone loss before menopause. J. Clin. Invest., 77:1487-1491.

Scheffler, N.M., Sheitel, P.L., and Lipton, M.N. 1992. Use of cryo/cuff for the control of postoperative pain and edema. J. Foot Surg., 31:141-148.

Sinaki, M. 2003. Critical appraisal of physical rehabilitation measures after osteoporotic vertebral fracture. Osteo. Int., 14:773-779.


Back strengthening exercises to prevent spinal fractures

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You have probably heard that back strengthening exercises help prevent spinal osteoporotic fractures — but are all types of exercises equally beneficial? No, they are not, as clearly documented by an early Mayo Clinic study (Sinaki and Mikkelsen 1984). This study showed clearly that extension-type back-strengthening exercises effectively prevented further spinal deformation in osteoporotic women. Flexion-type exercises, on the contrary, actually increased the risk of further spinal compression and wedging.

This landmark 1984 Mayo Clinic study took 59 postmenopausal women (49–60 yrs old) with spinal osteoporosis and/or existing spinal fractures and back pain. The women were grouped into four different treatment programs (1) extension exercise (bending backwards, spine lengthening exercises); (2) flexion exercise (bending forward exercises) (3) both extension and flexion exercises, and (4) no therapeutic exercise. Spinal x-rays were analyzed before and after the mean 1.5-year study period. Although small in number, the study was large in significance. Only 16% of women doing the extension exercise experienced further spinal wedging or compression. On the other hand, a whopping 89% of those doing the flexion exercises had worsened spinal deformities, as did 53% of those doing the combined extension and flexion exercises and 67% of the non-exercisers.

Exercise is a key component of the Better Bones, Better Body approach, and in this regard, a favorite ally is a good physical therapist who can help individuals with back pain and/or existing spinal deformities develop a safe and effective back strengthening program to help prevent new spinal fractures.



Sinaki, M and Mikkelsen, BA. 1984. Postmenopausal spinal osteoporosis: Flexion versus extension exercises. Arch Phys Med Rehabil, 65:593–596.


Endurance cycling leads to bone loss

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fcyclist-jpgWhile exercise is generally good for bone, a study of male endurance cyclists reports that serious cyclists lose significant hip bone mineral density during the biking season. This new research as well as earlier studies document that over time many endurance cyclists end up with low bone density.

If exercise is good for bone, why do endurance cyclists lose hip bone during the biking season?

Researchers report several factors which contribute to bone loss among serious cyclists. These include:

(1) Cycling is not weight-bearing and yields comparatively low skeletal strain (the skeletal strain of exercise encourages bone formation).
(2) Endurance cyclists do a great deal of this non-weight-bearing exercise, averaging over 13 hours per week, and perhaps do this activity instead of other exercise which might be weight-bearing and bone-building.
(3) Cyclists experienced an increase in parathyroid hormone, likely subsequent to excessive loss of calcium through the skin with sweating. Excess parathyroid hormone tends to increase bone breakdown.
(4) Cyclists likely did not consume enough calories for their heavy training. Also, I would add that they likely did not consume enough of the 20 key bone-building nutrients.
(5) The physiological stress of such training produces bone-damaging stress hormones and pro-inflammatory cytokines.

The Better Bones perspective on this research finding would include, but also go beyond, the above five proposed causal factors. As we see it, intense physical activity places various stresses on the body resulting in increased oxidative damage, increased bone-depleting low grade metabolic acidosis, and increased losses of many nutrients in the sweat. All these factors suggest the need for a higher level of not only calcium, but of all the 20 key bone nutrients. Further, ample antioxidants should be consumed by endurance athletes. These nutrients should be taken, perhaps in liquid form, just before or during the exercise itself. In addition, special attention should be given to reducing any exercise-induced metabolic acidosis with the Alkaline for Life® Diet and the use of alkalizing mineral compounds as necessary.


Barry, DW, and Kohrt, WM. 2008. BMD decreases over the course of a year in competitive male cyclists. J Bone Miner Res, 23(4):484-491.