“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them” -Andrew Gide
Growing up, I was afraid of the dark. Heck, there are times now when I’m still a little apprehensive entering a pitch black room even in my own house! I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. What am I afraid of? It’s my house, my rooms, my furniture etc. But my trepidation stems from not knowing what toy my kids left out for me to trip on, not knowing if I’ll run into a chair or not knowing if someone may be lurking in the dark room waiting for me. As soon as the light goes on my fear subsides because the unknown has been eliminated.
Loss of bone mineral density and the fear of osteopenia or osteoporosis is no different. Especially in the area of health, we are typically afraid of what we don’t know. From my experience, no other relatively common condition provokes as much worry, concern and hand-wringing than an osteoporosis diagnosis. In a recent survey of women with osteoporosis only 33% of women had taken steps to prevent it (and the majority of these women felt prevention meant taking calcium supplements), while 91% wish they had known HOW to take preventative action, and that almost all the participants in the survey (97%), said that all women SHOULD take action.
Like most things, once we get more informed about a particular fear or worry, it lessens to a large degree. Osteoporosis is again, no different. The good news is that The Exercise Coach®’s approach of combining proper nutrition and Right Intensity Training™ has yielded some great results. Fear no more!
SOME BACKGROUND ON BONES
What is the skeletal system, and more importantly, how do we protect ourselves from the dangers of osteoporosis?
With the skeletal system being the foundation of the body and with bones being the foundation of the skeletal system, it’s important to know how bones maintain their integrity. First, know that bones are constantly being remodeled. They are in a constant state of breaking down and rebuilding themselves. Specifically, osteoclasts break down and eliminate old bone while osteoblasts lay down new bone which is made up of collagen (protein). Hormones are then responsible for laying down calcium to ‘calcify’ or harden the bone.
The main reason behind diminished bone mineral density is a decrease in sex-hormone production.*
It’s hormones that are responsible for the balance between osteoclast (breakdown) and osteoblast (buildup) functions in the body. Specifically for women, estrogen slows down osteoclast activity, which then slows down the breakdown process. Progesterone and androgens (anabolic and estrogen precursors) stimulate new bone formation (osteoblasts). Basically, it’s a cyclic process of bones breaking down and building back up. Then, hormones play a crucial role in our body’s ability to maintain bone mineral density.
Now, peak bone mass occurs between the ages of 20-30. Peak bone mass means the bone itself is becoming denser and harder. As bone becomes denser and harder it weighs more. This should be kept in mind when people are looking for an ideal weight to maintain. Our ideal weight is not when we are 15, 18 or 22.
Peak bone mass correlates directly with peak sex-hormone production. (estrogen and progesterone). Therefore, as sex-hormone production decreases, so too does bone mineral density. As such, it’s normal for women to have less bone mineral density post-menopause or as we age, then pre-menopause or when we are in our twenties.
OSTEOPENIA AND OSTEOPOROSIS, WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Osteopenia is a condition where we have less bone, while osteoporosis is when the decreased bone mass puts you a greater risk for fracture.
By definition, kids who have not yet reached their peak bone mass have osteopenia. In fact, people who are beyond the age of 30 are expected to have some degree of osteopenia.
There are two different classification of Osteoporosis:
- Senile Osteoporosis – the gradual loss of hormones and the consequent loss of bone mass seen in normal aging.
- Menopausal osteoporosis – comes from accelerated loss or hormones occurring around menopause
Now that we have the background on bone taken care of, let’s talk about causes. Other than the normal decrease in hormone production, what contributes to low bone mass?
Other than genetics, there are two main contributing factors for the loss of bone mineral density:
- Poor nutrition
- Loss or lack of muscle quality
With the advent of dietary guidelines and the pervasiveness of the low fat way of life, many people have resorted to caloric restriction and at least minimizing, if not eliminating, a lot of protein from their diet. As we referenced above, protein is a primary component in collagen formation and fat is crucial to proper hormone regulation. If these two building blocks of bone formation are being restricted, it’s natural to see a decrease in those things found in our bodies. Another unknowing side-effect is the belief by some that a healthy weight is one we had in high school or college. This way of thinking increased the belief in the falsehood that caloric restriction and movement quantity was the best way to attain and maintain a specific weight.
LOSS / LACK OF MUSCLE QUALITY
As people’s dependence on “moving more” in order to achieve a certain weight has grown, (and by moving more I’m referring to increased aerobic activity or cardio), it has also led to the belief that certain activities such as walking and running promote increased bone mineral density. However, there are two problems with this way of thinking. First, experts in the field such as Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., author of Strong Women, Strong Bones, says, “NO study has ever shown that a middle-aged or older woman can increase her bone density by taking up walking.”
So what can we do to prevent or rebuild our bone mineral density? First, nutrition is key. We have to make sure we provide our body with the necessary raw materials to build new bones. This includes quality protein consumption and foods that are rich in nutrients such as green, leafy vegetables. The Exercise Coach® Nutrition Playbook is the perfect solution for an optimal nutrition plan, so seek out your nearest Exercise Coach® franchise for more specifics.
Next, we need to improve muscle quality! There is no question that a link exists between Right Intensity Exercise™, muscle mass, and higher bone density. **
In the next post, we will explore exactly how improving muscle quality directly impacts the health of our skeletal system by 1) increasing bone mineral density and 2) improving the structural support around our bones by allowing us to absorb more force.
* The Schwarzbein Principle by Dr. Diana Schwarzbein pg 181
** See additional articles on this topic:
Effects of High-Intensity Strength Training on Multiple Risk Factors for Osteoporotic Fractures
Effects of strength training on bone mineral density: hormonal and bone turnover relationships
Effects of resistance training on regional and total bone mineral density in premenopausal women: A randomized prospective study
Read the rest of this series:
Muscle Quality: Improving It Will Change Your Life
Muscle Quality and the Neurological System: Part 1
Muscle Quality and the Neurological System: Part 2
Muscle Quality and Fat Loss
Muscle Quality and “Cardio”
Muscle Quality and Cardiovascular Health
The Downside to prolonged “Cardio”
Muscle Quality and Osteoporosis
How to Combat Osteoporosis through Strength Training
Muscle Quality and Gastrointestinal Health
Muscle Quality and Inflammation
Muscle Quality and Brain Health
Muscle Quality and The Endocrine System: Part 1
Muscle Quality and The Endocrine System: Part 2