Bones and Muscles

The quick answer:  Machines and servants are beguiling, but for healthy bones, get up and do your own work.


Dealing With Doctors

A while back the beautiful wife had her annual ob/gyn exam.  She came back upset; scolded for not taking calcium supplements or vitamin D pills.  “They’re proven to work,” the doctor snapped, “you’re foolish not to take them.”  I hesitate to criticize doctors; they’re among the smartest and best educated of our society and in a career gain much experience.  Still, I wondered. 

“Why vitamin D pills,” I asked, “did he test your serum vitamin D level and find it lacking?”  In fact, my wife has never been tested; few people have.  This one-size-fits-all form of medical advice is cost-efficient but of questionable value.  “Shouldn’t the doctor determine your level, then have a discussion about the merits of vitamin D from the sun, vs. taking pills” I queried. 

“And what about calcium pills?  Does he have test data that you lack calcium?  If so, couldn’t he provide information about the research on getting calcium—and all the accompanying minerals and nutrients—from whole foods vs taking pills? Don’t vegetables have a place?”  For the beautiful wife, it’s all very confusing.

In the last post Harvard researcher D. Mark Hedsted was quoted: “The long-standing recommendations to increase calcium intakes [though this may increase bone density] appear to have had little or no effect on the prevalence of osteoporosis or fractures in the United States.”  The issue here is about the importance of bone density vs bone strength—taking calcium can add a little density but if the fracture rates don’t improve, those denser bones aren’t any stronger.

Building Bone

Bone strength is about more than calcium and vitamin D pills:

  • Various minerals—including phosphorous and magnesium in addition to calcium, all found in natural foods—must be in balance for optimum bone health. A balanced diet of whole foods will do this.
  • Acid/alkaline balance—the diet that is high in natural plant foods and low in animal products and processed foods will be less acidic and thus require less calcium to be pulled from the bones to buffer and remove the excess acid. 
  • Endocrine system—if you have concerns about osteoporosis, a thorough physical exam may be in order.  I know this sounds like TV drug advertising, which I hate, but ask your doctor.  In my experience, doctors prefer doing preventive work like exams over reacting to crises.  Bone health requires a well-working endocrine system (adrenal glands, pancreas, thyroid, parathyroid, etc.).
  • Muscle-bone balance—because muscles are anchored to bones, strong muscles make for strong bones and vice versa.  The relationship is mutually beneficial.  To strengthen bones, think about how to use and build your muscles.

Building Muscle

Guys will sometimes go on a muscle-building program; girls too.  There’s a cost: the gym membership, workout clothes, a trainer, and time from a busy life.  There’s risk too: like long-lasting injuries from unusual straining.  I’ve done this; it was fun.  I felt better and looked a bit buffer, but it wasn’t sustainable.  The excitement wore off and I sustained an injury—lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, from the weights. 

Gyms are okay but to be long-lasting, exercise should be integral to your daily life—there’s plenty that can be done around the house, with the family.  With the caution to proceed carefully and consult your doctor about health limitations, here are some suggestions:

  1. Reject the trend to servancy—having things done for you.  It strokes the ego, but do you really need a car with automatic door closers?  Simplify your life and take satisfaction in doing things yourself.
  2. Do your own yard work and housework.  The hard times in Mexico are bad for our bones—immigrants will work hard for little money to do the chores that once built our muscles.  Do your own yardwork, using old-fashioned manual tools, like a push-mower.  Forget the noisy leaf blower—find a rake or push broom and enjoy the peace.  If you have children, think how you can involve them.  It’s fun to do yard work, to be outside connected with nature. 
  3. Besides yard work, there’s the joy of house cleaning.  Isn’t there?  Make a schedule of work and give it 30 minutes daily; work to up tempo music to improve your efficiency and effort.
  4. Walk.  The beautiful wife is out each morning with her friends; they walk and gab, never run out of things to say.  Lunchtime walks are good, at home or at work, because you also get a little sunshine.
  5. Get a bicycle.  Walking is good, but cycling gives a more intense workout and you get to see more country.  Alternate between both in your workouts.  For daily errands, consciously double the distance you’ll travel without starting the car.  (I wear a helmet and stay off busy roads.)
  6. Add these tools to your home: a speed bag (the leather ball with a swivel used by boxers); a pull-up bar, and a jump rope.  The repetitive jumping is a safe and effective way to strengthen bone, plus it’s a super aerobic workout.  You won’t last very long at the start, but you’ll improve with time.  Same way with the speed bag.  With a few months of practice the clatter will be music to your ears and a good way to work off your aggression.
  7. In the car, use the time at stoplights to exercise.  You can get a good upper body workout by compressing or tensioning the steering wheel, or just keep a hand exerciser handy.  Depending on your commute, you can spend a lot of time at stoplights.  (No working out when driving.)
  8. Stairs are a great work out; forget the elevator.  If stairs aren’t in your daily routine, find a local hill or high school stadium steps to add to your workout.
  9. Cooking is work, there’s no way around it.  But it’s also exercise.  So besides the nutrition benefit of home cooking, enjoy the effort too.
  10. Dance.  Rediscover the joy of dance exercise.  At the church we attend, there were a group of widows in their 90s who would sit together.  What was the secret to their longevity?  Maybe that they had all been dancers in their youth.

Please comment on how you include exercise in your daily routine. 

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Reader Comments (13)

Great post! We have indeed become a sedentary society (as I sit here, nearly motionless at my computer...) barely needing to lift a finger to survive.

My husband said once that taking calcium supplements (or drinking lots of milk), expecting to have strong bones is like sitting on the couch drinking a protein shake, expecting to have strong muscles. Get up and move people! :)

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

I recently adopted a 7 year old chocolate lab who keeps me walking daily. It was easy to skip a day of walking before....but not now. And it's the most relaxing, calming and still heart-pumping part of my day.

I also make sure to get away from my desk for a lap or two around the office building. Even in the 100+ degree Vegas summer heat, it really helps!

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

skip, great post, as always.

in response: i'm a big fan of tim ferriss's book The Four-Hour Body. i've been following his idea of a weekly kettlebell workout. i literally only takes 10 minutes twice a week, yet it works your whole body (including your heart and lungs, surprisingly).

it sounds like it's too good to be true, but try it, and you'll be surprised.

i weigh 155 lbs, and i use a 55 lbs kettlebell (sometimes with one hand, sometimes with two).

here's a video as a brief intro. skip to 1:40 if you're in a hurry.

sorry if this sounds like an ad. truth is, there's enough about it online that you don't have to buy the book.

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTravis Washburn

Exercise is one thing that the hubs and I are trying to incorporate with our 6 children. Currently our favorite form of family exercise is riding our bikes in the evening after it's cooled down a bit. The four older kids all ride their own bikes, but I get the privilege of carting our 2 & 3 year old boys in a trailer behind my bike. I love that it adds some additional weight to give me an even better workout. We try to go between 3-5 miles each night and it's a great way to get a workout together. In addition to riding on the road, we have some great "bike trails" that traverse the forested part of our yard. The kids have a great time trying to best their dad on those trails and even the 3 year old gets in on the action on his own two-wheeler.

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervalena

I run for excercise--3x week. I like it because it's one of the highest burning calorie workouts and you can do it in a little time and it's free! Recently I started listening to LDS General Conference during my runs and it has been great to get a spiritual boost as well.
My husband and I are also big fans of yoga. He swears that he is a better athlete and less prone to injury since starting yoga. I always feel fantastic after doing yoga--like I took my body in for a tune-up.
I just wanted to add one comment about the vitamin D issue. I have a friend that was tested severely deficient. She thought that was weird because she drank a ton of milk and ate dairy at the time. She switched to whole foods including raw milk. She explained to me that pasteurized milk actually takes out the vitamin D so it is added as a supplement, but in that added form it may not be absorbed by the body. I'd like to do some more research on raw milk. She has noticed great benefits from switching to it.

August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLC

So glad you have brought the attention to bone health NOT coming from taking calcium supplements. Another thing to mention is the correlation between drinking soda... of any kind depleting the calcium in your bones.

August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTamra

It used to be really hard for me and the hubby to get out of the house. We're both very introverted and very involved in our computer/internet lives. We work from home and are perfectly happy solitary people. We got a gym membership and get there most days of the week just to get out of the house and get moving! It's really helped us to think about getting exercise more. Like parking in the back of the parking lot at the grocery store so you have to walk further. When we go see a movie at the shopping complex we walk all over the area after the movie is done. When we don't make it to the gym we make a point of taking a good long walk around the neighborhood. Instead of driving to the library we opt for the 15 min walk there and 15 min back. Plus we get arm exercise when we have books we're returning/borrowing. When I do laundry I do a few bicep/tricep exercises with the detergent bottle.

August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRill

Started running about three years ago (got started by following a walk/run interval program). I really grew to love it, and I try to run about 3-4 times per week. Based on my interest, my husband took up running too! We like to go running on trails in our area and have really enjoyed the time together. I also attend a bikram yoga class.
It's easy to get lazy and try to skip exercise, but I found that I really feel so much better when I do it. I try to remind myself of this fact when I'm tempted to stay at home instead of going for that run. I also try to switch it up and try other new stuff from time to time, like jump roping or cardio kick boxing classes. A good routine for jump rope workouts is here:

Thanks for the time you spend on this blog, Skip, I've found it to be a really great resource.

August 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Great post. A topic I would love to read on your blog is about feeding kids. I have two children, ages 1 and 3 and it feels like I'm constantly swimming upstream trying to feed them healthy food. The food fed to most kids is a sorry excuse for nourishment. I have been amazed at how many really great, conscientious parents feed their children the standard American diet for kids without even questioning it. It's like they buy into the marketing and really feel good about feeding their kids super-sweetened yogurt because it's a "good source of calcium and protein" or "all natural." You can really see, as the WoW says, "the evil designs in the hearts of conspiring men" in food marketing. As a parent, you really have to be okay with being "weird" to go against this and say "no" to the standard fare of go-gurt, chicken nuggest and fishy crackers.

I have it down pretty well at home and they really seem to enjoy a lot of healthy whole foods, but grandparents' homes and friends homes are a different story. I try to chill out, realizing that what they eat at home comprises the majority of their diets and that a little sugar and processed food won't hurt them. However, the problem I run into is that eating just a little bit of processed or sugary food really seems to change my son's tastes and he is no longer satisfied with the healthy stuff. Anyway, I could go on and on but I would love to hear your thoughts.

Skip: Lindsey, thanks for the suggestion. Winning children's support for a healthy diet is a great subject for a post. Candy, and other sweets, is an easy way to please children, to which less creative adults (who should know better) regularly resort. Though it's outside the home it is a distraction and some weeks can occur far too many times. We'll come back to this in a post. Best to you, Skip

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

I have two children with milk protein allergies and the last two posts have been very helpful to calm my fears about calcium pills, calcium fortified replacements and building strong bones.

Btw Skip, I proposed this website as the bases for my health curriculum this year. I home school three of my 7 children. After "much review " my district approved your site as "comprehensive" !!!! You are officially better than a text book.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Heather, thanks so much. "Better than a text book" is high praise. We have just 18 Healthy Changes left in the year but we look forward to starting over next January and including all the comments and suggestions offered by the readers. Best to you.

August 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

That was a great article! I like it very much. Keep posting like this.

August 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteramino acid protein

I absolutely love this post Skip.

My best recommendation for daily exercise: take care of a 1 and 3 year old. I am probably in the best shape of my life and am 34. I don't drink much, try to watch my sugar (although have good and bad days) and am constantly chasing kids, picking them up, or cleaning house. I am fortunate to have good genes that help me stay slender, but I know doing things around the house and watching kids helps too.

August 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

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