Simply standing on one foot – doing the Flamingo – may help prevent osteoporosis
When patients or doctors talk about osteoporosis the tendency is to focus largely on the density of the bones, but there is much more to consider. Osteoporosis is defined as “porous bones”. The natural structure of healthy bone is much like honeycomb, but as osteopenia (mild loss of bone) and osteoporosis (moderate to severe loss of bone) occur the small holes naturally present become enlarged as the body either breaks down too much bone or stops forming enough new bone. We focus on the density because of the fear of fracture, or bone breaks. Brittle bones break more easily and, especially with age, recovering from those breaks is increasingly difficult.
However, the strength of the bone itself is not the only thing preventing breaks. Let’s look at some of the best strategies to keep bones healthy and minimize falls that don’t involve pills.
If you don’t fall, you aren’t very likely to break anything. Balance decreases with age and we have to work harder at maintaining it. Thankfully, that’s relatively easy and everything recommended here also helps prevent inner ear problems such as Benign Positional Paroxsymal Vertigo (insert link to previous article?). Humans are linear – we walk and run forward, not side to side. Over time this decreases the strength of our lateral muscles which help provide adequate balance support and contribute to good proprioception. Wonderful activities that help cultivate stronger balance and build lateral muscles include dancing, yoga, tai chi or chi gong among others. If that does appeal or isn’t feasible don’t forget about doing “the Flamingo” where you stand on one foot for 30 seconds each side once a day. To challenge yourself and help you remember to do it take it up a step and do your flamingo time while brushing or flossing your teeth.
Create more bone
Your bone-making cells (osteoblasts) can be encouraged to lay down more bone. The best way to stimulate their activity is by exercise. We used to think that it had to be weight-bearing exercise such as lifting weights, but we now know that even lighter exercise helps. Happily, yoga has enough weight-bearing poses to make a real impact and helps with balance too so great bang for your buck.
Taking calcium or other supplements has minimal impact if you aren’t breaking them down, let alone the minerals you derive from your food. First, know that if you are taking an acid blocking drug to prevent heart burn you are directly inhibiting your ability to absorb all of your dietary nutrients. Please talk with your health care provider about finding another option for treating this common condition. Second, try enhancing your own digestive power by adding a bitter tincture or a tsp of apple cider vinegar in some water before meals. Both stimulate the production of your own stomach acid and digestive enzymes to help your body do the best job it can at digesting your food.
Think minimalist style if possible. Don’t decorate with small throw rugs. Hallways and spaces around furniture should be clear of obstacles and easy to walk around. Check the lighting – bright light makes navigating easier. If you need to look at a new living space look for a home that takes “aging in place” into consideration.
These four big picture aspects of osteoporosis treatment are just as valuable as any medication or supplement you take and can have a strong effect on stronger bones.
Dr. Alethea Fleming, ND is a passionate advocate for naturopathic geriatric medicine. A 2007 Bastyr University graduate, she also earned a certificate in Gerontology from the University of Washington. Dr. Fleming is the owner and lead physician of the Vital Aging Clinic in Anacortes, Washington where she provides primary care to all adults as well as adjunctive geriatric care. Dr. Fleming is active in multiple community organizations as well as a member of WANP, AANP and OncANP. In her off hours, Dr. Fleming can be found hiking the beautiful trails of Fidalgo Island, spending time with her wonderful husband and son, or with her nose firmly in a good book.