The Better Bones Blog

by Dr. Susan Brown, PhD.

whole body approach to building muscle

Hey Miranda, am I doing this hip-strengthening exercise correctly?

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Miranda Esmonde-White, founder of the world renowned Classical Stretch Exercise Program.

It is always a delight to be in the company of someone who radiates so much warmth and energy — but I was also eager to ask her a question: I had been told by my physical therapist that the muscles in my right hip were weaker than my left, and I was using one of Miranda’s exercises to strengthen my right hip.  The movement involved a series of leg lifts, so I showed her what I was doing and asked her if I was performing them correctly.

Her reply was a gentle but firm rebuke: the most effective approach to building any single muscle group is a whole-body approach.

All our muscles are interwoven in a series of elegant chains, all interconnected. Thus, she explained, the strengthening of any particular muscle group should begin with lengthening and strengthening the total body muscular system. In fact, this is what Miranda teaches us to do in each of her 20-minute exercise DVD segments — strengthen and lengthen all the muscle groups.

Only after this whole-body work-out should I go on to focus on my right hip muscle group, if needed.

My response to her pointing out the error of my ways initially was embarrassment — because I immediately recognized my flawed thinking as something I’ve railed against when it comes to bone health!

I’ve always argued that the health of the skeletal system is dependent on the health of the entire body and vice versa.  You cannot successfully nourish and promote the health of one single bone, nor can you expect excellent results if you deal with just one factor that is causing bone loss and don’t address the others.

prolia-blockbuster or bust?

Prolia for Bone Fractures — I’m Still Not Impressed

When the bone drug Prolia (denosumab) first came out in 2010, I took a hard look at it because it used a completely different mechanism than widely used bisphosphonate drugs, focusing on the RANK/RANK-L/OPG system to prevent osteoclasts from being “activated” instead of decreasing their number like bisphosphonates. I wasn’t satisfied in 2010 that this drug was any safer or more effective than bisphosphonates, and sad to say my skepticism has been borne out by recent research.

Is a Prolia a blockbuster bone drug — or a bust?

The FREEDOM Trial, which studied Prolia use in postmenopausal women for 3 years, found very little reduction in fracture risk. Vertebral and hip fractures were reduced 4.8% and 0.3% — meaning for 100 women they treated, only 5 saw fewer vertebral fractures than you’d expect with a placebo, and not even one woman was spared from a hip fracture by the drug. Given that hip fractures are considerably more harmful than vertebral fractures, these are minimal benefits indeed.

Although gains in bone density were observed, those gains were lost within 1 year of halting the drug (Cummings et al., 2017).

Furthermore, once they stopped using Prolia, patients’ risk of vertebral fracture quickly (<1–2 years) reverted to the same risk seen in those who’d never taken the drug in the first place (Cummings et al., 2017). They also lost a significant amount of the bone they’d gained by using Prolia—35.5% of the total gain in the spine, 44.6% of the total gain in the femoral neck, and 103.3% in the total hip (Zanchetta et al., 2017). In other words, the drug offered no lasting benefit.

Much more concerning: the finding that patients were more susceptible to having multiple vertebral fractures after discontinuing Prolia than patients who’d never taken the drug at all — and it was especially high in those who’d had such fractures prior to going on the drug in the first place (Cummings et al., 2017; Anastasilakis et al., 2017). This finding confirmed a number of earlier case reports of “rebound fractures” in patients who had discontinued Prolia within the preceding 12 months. Researchers speculated such fractures were a consequence of sudden renewal of bone resorption after the drug was stopped in combination with the absence of repair mechanisms during its use (Anastasilakis et al., 2017; Lamy et al., 2017; Polyzos & Terpos, 2016).

I’ve said repeatedly that working against nature invites unintended consequences, so I’m not surprised by these results. What is disappointing is the continued emphasis on the “magic bullet” approach to osteoporosis, when it has been clear for so many years that it just doesn’t work.

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interval training for better bones

Take a minute for your health in the new year

I’m a big believer that any step you take to improve your health, no matter how minor it may seem, can have profound effects on all the body’s interconnected systems.

Case in point: a recent study on interval training found that exercising a few times week for 10 minutes — with just 60 seconds of maximal effort per session — was enough to boost insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and skeletal muscle strength.

In the study, the researchers took an interval training regimen developed some years ago that used 20 to 30 minutes of cycling per session and pared it down to a 10-minute program to see if the benefits could be obtained with even less time commitment. Over the course of 12 weeks, previously sedentary men engaged in interval training 3 times per week for 10 minutes per session. Their workouts consisted of:

  • 2 minutes of low-intensity cycling followed by a maximum-effort burst lasting 20 seconds (performed 3 times)
  • A 3-minute cool-down to end the session.

Meanwhile, a continuous training group did a 2-minute warm up, followed by 45 minutes of cycling at 70% max heart rate, then a 3-minute cool down.

Just 60 seconds is all it takes

The astonishing conclusion was that the sprint interval training regimen — a total time commitment of 30 minutes per week, with just 60 seconds of maximal effort per session — was as effective as 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity continuous training. And more amazing is that benefits were seen across the board — increasing insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content. (I should note here that although this particular study was done with men, other research suggests interval training has a similar effect among women.)

This is an absolutely incredible finding! It reinforces the idea that even a small commitment of time and effort and can have big benefits. So go all out for a minute to improve your bone health — and total health — this year!

Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnes MJ, et al. Twelve weeks of sprint interval training improves indices of cardiometabolic health similar to traditional endurance training despite a five-fold lower exercise volume and time commitment. PLoS One. 2016 Apr 26;11(4):e0154075. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154075.

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