By Kat Christian
When discussing women’s health, there are many important health topics to consider, such as breast and reproductive health, but some women’s health issues are less obvious than others.
Bone health, for example, can often be overlooked until it’s too late. More common in women than in men, osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become weak and break easily.
Because bone density is the major player in determining if a person is at risk, taking steps to strengthen and maintain a strong frame is essential to preventing osteoporosis.
For women, one of the main factors in bone loss is the decrease in estrogen that happens during and after menopause. Estrogen is an important hormone in bone development, and a drop can cause one’s bone density to decrease quickly.
Although the majority of women affected are post-menopausal, it is never too early to practice prevention. Adolescents and young adults are in the best position to thwart the onset of osteoporosis as they can actively build bone density, which will remain until well into their mature adult years, through diet and exercise.
It is true that you are what you eat. The recipe for strong bones is a diet complete with calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is the mineral that helps build strong bones, and vitamin D is a factor that aids in calcium absorption.
These dietary must-haves are not only important in bone health, but they also help blood to clot properly and play a central role in muscle movement throughout your body.
When the body does not receive enough dietary calcium to function, it will adjust by taking the calcium it needs from your bones, causing bone loss.
Dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and milk are high in calcium and often come fortified with vitamin D. Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens are versatile, calcium-rich additions to the vegan or lactose-sensitive dinner table.
Especially when paired with a complete diet, exercise is paramount to preventing osteoporosis. Exercise can slow bone loss, improve muscle strength and help your balance to prevent falls, which may be debilitating to a woman with osteoporosis.
A proponent of exercise as medicine is Tracy Stoltz, director of therapy operations at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Nittany Valley.
According to Stoltz, “Studies show that exercise, especially weight-bearing, resistance training and flexibility activities, benefit women by slowing the progression of osteoporosis.” Examples of weight-bearing exercises include walking, hiking, dancing and stair climbing.
The best exercises to improve the integrity of the musculoskeletal system are high amplitude movements, including: anti-gravity exercises such as jumping jacks, which use your body weight to strengthen muscles; weight-shifting exercises; trunk mobility exercises; and transitional movements, such as sit-to-stand or laying down to sitting.
Women can practice strengthening their bones by doing several sets of these exercises at work or at home each day. Of course, anyone beginning a new exercise routine or modifying their existing exercise routine should check with their doctor before making that decision.
“Osteoporosis doesn’t have to be a problem for women,” says Stoltz. “Proper exercise combined with a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can slow the decrease in bone density.
“Even teens and young adults should be active in preventing bone loss later in life by striving to have healthy bones today.”
For more information about exercise as medicine for specific inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs, please call Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Nittany Valley at 814-359-5630.