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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.