Bone Health for Women
Osteoporosis literally means ‘bones with holes’; it is a condition where bones become thin, weak and fragile. Osteopenia, or low bone density, is a condition when bone mineral density is lower than normal but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis1.
Of 10 million Americans who have Osteoporosis right now, 80% of them are women2. In Australia, 29% of women over 75 have osteoporosis compared to 10% of men. Our task this month is to modify our lifestyles to optimise bone health!
First things first, you need adequate nutrition to maintain healthy bones. If you’re not sure, you need to go to your GP and get your vitamin D levels checked, make sure you’re a healthy body weight (ie. not underweight). If you’re currently transitioning through menopause, have thyroid disease, have an overactive thyroid, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic liver or kidney disease, or other conditions that affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients (such as Chron’s disease, coeliac disease, and inflammatory bowel conditions), you’ll need to be aware that this puts you at higher risk of developing Osteoporosis. There aren’t really any symptoms so regular screening is important.
There are some great studies on Whole Body Vibration and Bone mineral density, and it is now considered a safe physical activity for people with osteoporosis. The mechanical vibrations are transmitted in to your body when you are positioned above the platform (either in a static, held position such as a squat, or moving in an exercise, such as woodchops). The pressure from gravity pushing your body down in to the vibrations (which are pushing up) induces bone formation. Whole body vibration also increases the level of growth hormone and testosterone, which can slow the onset, or even prevent the loss of skeletal muscle mass and bone mass3.
In another review of 12 studies, 7 of them showed an improvement to BMD without medications4. The 5 that didn’t record an improvement were either working less than 25hts, or more than 40hts – the Power Plate’s range is 25-50hts for this reason (another reminder that more isn’t necessarily better!).
It is not too late to start working on your bone health, and it’s never too early to start, either! Women hit their peak mass at around 15-20 years of age, so being active as a child and through adolescence is really important5. However, even if you weren’t active, if you start now, you can maintain what you’ve got in to old age!
Muscle mass, a contributor to bone health, peaks around 35 years in women, and women have less mass to start with6. For this reason, next week we’ll show you what kinds of exercise is best for bone health!
Weight Bearing Exercise
So we know that “weight bearing exercise” is important for bone health, and that physical activity as a child is really important for setting a solid base line for bone density7; however, if you are already an adult, there’s still plenty you can do to maintain what you’ve got! In elderly people who already have osteoporosis, weight bearing exercise was shown to improve the density of their spinal and leg bones8. However, different movements and exercise modalities affect and load the bones in different ways.
Two ways you can “weight bear” on your muscles and bones include body weight movement, and lifting physical weight. It is also worthwhile emphasising that these are an example, they are not a prescription, and consult with your doctor or physio if you already have osteoporosis.
Gravity Loaded – Body Weight Movement is anything where you’re overcoming gravity… ie. You’re pushing UP against it. Examples include walking, stair repeats, push ups, squats, lunges, etc. Just using your body weight against gravity.
Lifting Weights is also gravity loaded, but not necessarily with your body weight. For example, you might go in to a gym and do a shoulder press, or a chest press machine, or a leg press machine. These all load your muscles and bones in a way that should improve or maintain your bone density.
Another way to “weight bear” is to load with acceleration. In the gym we can do this in two ways:
- Accelerate with gravity, absorbing impact, also called plyometrics.
Examples of how to do this include
– Squat jumps
– Plyometric exercise, which is anything explosive, where you leave the ground and then absorb the landing (expl. Push ups)
- Allow the Power Plate to accelerate in to your body9. This is not as hard core as it sounds! As you stand on the power plate you have micro moments of instability, and micro moments of ground reaction force – which is the force you absorb when you land in plyometric exercise. The cool thing about loading this way is that you can control the angles, for example knees collapsing when you land a jump squat.
Examples of how to use the power plate for bone training include:
– Squat to calf raise
– Lunge to calf raise
– Growler plank
– Just being in between the platform and gravity !
Eating for Bone Health
The foods you eat (and don’t eat) will affect your bones. The ideal diet for bone health includes multiple sources of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K – and a wide variety of those10.
What this means is that a glass of milk everyday is not “good” calcium for bones, milk one day, goat cheese the next, fish the next, and always a tonne of fresh foods is the goal = VARIETY.
For healthy bones, eat more11:
- Yoghurt and calcium fortified milks (from more than one animal) for calcium
- Fish – especially sardines and salmon (with bones) for calcium
- Fish – fatty varieties such as mackerel, and tuna for vitamin D
- Greens – such as kale, cabbage, dandelion, mustard, and broccoli for calcium and vitamin K
- Spinach, beetroot greens, okra, tomato and tomato products, artichokes, sweet potatoes, and raisins for magnesium
- Tomatoes and tomato products, potatoes, papaya, oranges, bananas, and prunes for potassium
- Red and green capsicum, grapefruit, strawberries, brussell sprouts, and pineapples for vitamin C
To avoid bone loss12:
- Eating foods with heaps of sodium can cause your body to lose calcium and lead to bone loss – avoid processed foods, such as anything in a can or plastic wrapper. If you’re going to eat out of packets, look for foods with less than 20% of your daily recommended intake of sodium, and eat less than 2300mg per day.
- Drinking heavily can lead to bone loss, alcohol consumption for women should be 1 drink or less per day.
- Caffeine, whether it comes from coffee, tea, or energy drinks can contribute to bone loss, and you should consumed 3 or less on a daily basis.
In short, bone health for women is extremely important for longevity and health. It is mostly about looking after what you’ve got, with healthy eating, healthy loading, and healthy movement
3Weber-Rajek, M., Mieszkowski, J., Niespodziński, B., & Ciechanowska, K. (2015). Whole-body vibration exercise in postmenopausal osteoporosis. Przeglad menopauzalny = Menopause review, 14(1), 41–47. https://doi.org/10.5114/pm.2015.48679
4Dionello, C. F., Sá-Caputo, D., Pereira, H. V., Sousa-Gonçalves, C. R., Maiworm, A. I., Morel, D. S., Moreira-Marconi, E., Paineiras-Domingos, L. L., Bemben, D., & Bernardo-Filho, M. (2016). Effects of whole body vibration exercises on bone mineral density of women with postmenopausal osteoporosis without medications: novel findings and literature review. Journal of musculoskeletal & neuronal interactions, 16(3), 193–203.
5Demontiero, O., Vidal, C., & Duque, G. (2012). Aging and bone loss: new insights for the clinician. Therapeutic advances in musculoskeletal disease, 4(2), 61–76. https://doi.org/10.1177/1759720X11430858
7Proia, P., Amato, A., Drid, P., Korovljev, D., Vasto, S., & Baldassano, S. (2021). The Impact of Diet and Physical Activity on Bone Health in Children and Adolescents. Frontiers in endocrinology, 12, 704647. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2021.704647
8Shanb, A. A., & Youssef, E. F. (2014). The impact of adding weight-bearing exercise versus nonweight bearing programs to the medical treatment of elderly patients with osteoporosis. Journal of family & community medicine, 21(3), 176–181. https://doi.org/10.4103/2230-8229.142972
9Benedetti MG, Furlini G, Zati A, Letizia Mauro G. The Effectiveness of Physical Exercise on Bone Density in Osteoporotic Patients. Biomed Res Int. 2018 Dec 23;2018:4840531. doi: 10.1155/2018/4840531. PMID: 30671455; PMCID: PMC6323511.