February 18, 2018
Growing up my parents loved playing bridge. And we were a family of four so as soon as my sister and I were old enough to learn they taught us both how to play as well (I imagine so they could play without having to invite anybody over LOL.) Regardless, by the time I was only ten I was already pretty good at the game (much better than many adults, in fact)…my favorite part was calling "trump" and taking the "trick" (all the cards on the table) by throwing cards from my hand which, under many circumstances, wouldn't be considered winning cards.
The moral of this story (I mean blog) is that no matter what genetic hand you're dealt with, your lifestyle will always trump your genetic predispositions in the game called "A Long Healthy Life."
And even if you haven't heard of or read any research to support what I just said, common sense confirms my theory if you simply consider that never before in human history have we been faced with a situation in which such a large segment of the population is obese and so unwell...we didn't suddenly all become genetically predisposed to these conditions, it was our lifestyle that created this horrible state of affairs.
Also consider the Japanese for a moment - a population that's long been considered the healthiest group of people actively "in the world" UNTIL THEY BECOME US CITIZENS. Japanese GENES aren't altered during the trans-pacific flight but the traditional Japanese lifestyle certainly changes dramatically.
So it's important for you to know that if you've already been diagnosed with either osteopenia (the beginning stages of osteoporosis) or even full-blown osteoporosis, you're dealing with conditions that can be AT LEAST PARTIALLY reversed simply by changing your lifestyle.
And I'm sure I'm about to blow a lot of your minds when I also say that FOR MOST PEOPLE taking a calcium supplement is NOT the best way to either ward off or reverse bone loss. In fact for the first time in human history there's a huge population of folks in this country that have lost bone mass, are taking calcium supplements yet are NOT reversing their conditions, but instead are growing bone spurs and throwing kidney stones (basically the calcium supplements are going to all the wrong places.)
So I'm sure I'm about to blow almost all the rest of your minds when I say that changing up just 3 aspects of your lifestyle is typically all it takes to reverse bone loss (no matter where on the bone loss spectrum you are): you need to improve the way you move, you need to improve the way you relax, and you need to improve the way you eat.
First let's talk about the way everyone who wants to either ward off or improve bone loss should move. We all know we’re supposed to move often, right? But these days it’s rare you’ll hear even fitness experts talking about specific kinds of exercise that definitely impact bone density. So let me be the first to tell you it's pretty easy to improve bone density even if you already have full-blown osteoporosis…all you have to do is pound a little on the bones and pull a little on the bones (on a regular basis, of course…that's where the moving-often part figures into the picture!)
Pounding on the bones actually occurs during any type of impact exercise (and even walking counts so no need to worry that I'll be asking your hump-backed Granny to start training for her first marathon!) All I'm really talking about here is 30-60 minutes 3-6 days a week of any rhythmic, sustained activity that involves your feet hitting a hard surface like brisk walking, running, jumping rope, or even stair climbing. You can get pretty snazzy about your choice in "pounding" if you like: test drive various dance-style aerobics classes or try playing around with HIIT or Tabata training (just to name a couple of popular variations on good 'ole fashioned impact exercise) but the true key to success is finding the activity you like best then simply doing it on a regular basis.
Pulling on the bones, on the other hand, means nothing more than strength training for 30-60 minutes at least 2 or better yet 3 times a week (but never on consecutive days) with the goal of conditioning all of the major muscle groups including legs, back, chest, arms and core.
And you might be surprised to hear that when I'm working with a client whose primary concern is improved bone density, I almost never use or prescribe machines for the strength training portion of their regular exercise routine. Why, you ask? Because you might also be surprised to learn that most machines were actually designed to rehab injured muscles, not strengthen healthy ones. It’s also been my experience (both in my own workouts and in working with umpteen clients) that some of the most popular strength training techniques these days are either irrelevant or dangerous: when strength training is performed exclusively with machines you’re not only using fewer muscles but the muscles you're using aren't learning to be fully functional either.
And here's why you can stop silently calling me a conspiracy theorist: because when muscles are touching something soft and squishy (like the backrest of a machine at the gym for instance) the brain sends a signal to those muscles that it's time to relax so they basically don't work (at least to their fullest capacity) while you're performing the exercise. (BTW crossfit-ish type strength training routines aren’t all that good for you either because their unsystematic intensity often leads to both muscle and bone injury but that’s a whole other blog.)
When you’re standing up and using a free-weight to do the same exercise you were about to do while seated at a machine, however, lots more muscles throughout your body have to fire off in order to stabilize not just your core but all the muscles you’re about to move…in other words your whole body works in a integrated and completely coordinated manner. In the end you’ll not only use more muscles, you'll strengthen more muscles, and therefore strengthen your bones more efficiently, and even be more functionally fit (in other words be in better shape to do all the things you love without pain until the day you die AND WHO DOESN’T WANT THAT???!!!)
So now let’s talk about the way everyone who wants to either ward off or improve bone loss should relax (and I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that this conversation is going to include plenty of info on T'ai Chi Chih LOL!)
"So why," you ask "does T'ai Chi Chih have anything to do with bone density?"
Good question! And I'll give you two answers (one sorta "woo woo" answer plus another one that's pretty darn scientific.)
From a Chinese perspective, the purpose of doing T'ai Chi Chih is to activate, circulate, and balance your vital force, or your Chi - the energy that's flowing through your body (whether you know it or not) from the moment you're born until the moment you die (and it probably doesn't actually stop flowing when you die…I imagine it simply disperses into the universe but I digress.)
But your Chi is actually only activated and circulated during the moving portions of T'ai Chi Chih…only during the resting portions of T'ai Chi Chih does your Chi balance while it comes to rest IN YOUR BONES (which not only has a lot to do with bone density but also has a lot to do with your health in general…remember the MARROW of your bones is literally the cradle of your immune system.)
And in support of my "woo woo" theory on the connection between T'ai Chi Chih and improved bone density I'll share a very interesting true story: I personally know several people who in the last few years have begun practicing T'ai Chi Chih very regularly…they were already leading healthy lifestyles by eating well and exercising, and weren't overweight or unhealthy in any way except they were all in the beginning stages of full-blown osteoporosis UNTIL THEY ADDED T'AI CHI CHIH INTO THE EQUATION at which time their osteoporotic conditions literally began to reverse. Each one of them told me personally how astounded their doctors were to learn that all they'd done differently since their last DXA scan was practice T'ai Chi Chih every day.
I'd actually be happy to sit here and debate this theory of mine until we're all blue in the face but instead why don't we shift gears and look at this whole subject from a scientific perspective for a moment.
When you're stressed out your cortisol level rises…elevated cortisol is an inflammatory response. If your cortisol remains consistently high for a period of time it becomes chronically elevated which inevitably leads to what's known as "chronic systemic inflammation." And if you boil every single major disease (including osteoporosis) down to its absolute essence and origin, all diseases look the same: they all begin with chronic systemic inflammation. So if you don't like T'ai Chi Chih but you do like and practice some other type of high-quality relaxation technique (& most likely mindfulness relaxation/meditation techniques are the most health enhancing of all) then you can still very easily lower your inflammation. No other mindfulness practice literally strengthens your bones at the same time, however (see how we've circled back around to my woo woo theory?!)
Now let’s talk about the way everyone who wants to either ward off or improve bone loss should eat.
Remember what I said about inflammation being the root of all disease (including osteoporosis)? Well it's also important for you to understand that the birthplace of elevated inflammation in your body is typically your digestive tract.
Think about it: your digestive tract is the last barrier between whatever you put in your mouth and the rest of your body…every single morsel of food you eat has to pass through the digestive tract before it gets disseminated in various directions in order for your body to make use of that food.
And here's an important question: have you ever heard of a condition called leaky gut syndrome?
I'll try to explain it in layman's terms. When you're healthy, the cells that line the walls of your digestive tract overlap a bit like fish scales. And those cells have a really important job: they absorb chemicals and phytonutrients from the food you eat then release vital nutrients into your bloodstream.
But eating foods that are difficult to digest (foods filled with ingredients, chemicals, and toxins that simply don't exist in nature) causes those healthy fish-scale-like cells to change sort of the same way the bottom of your foot changes when you walk barefoot on a hard pavement for too long. The cells have to work so hard figuring out what to do with the weird ingredients, chemicals, and toxins in processed food they begin to shrink, thicken, and toughen up (just like the sole of the bare foot eventually becomes callused from smacking that hard pavement over and over again.) Soon those healthy fish-scale-like cells look more like bricks in a wall only there's space between them, rather than mortar…just enough space for chemicals and toxins to leak through into parts of your body where they seriously don't belong.
Am I scaring you yet?
Well hold onto your hat because now I'm going to say something that may cause you to run screaming from the room so please just trust me and remember that there's a huge amount of money riding on the United States continuing it longtime love affair with dairy foods.
Are you ready? Here comes the bombshell: 70% of all human adults simply don't have the proper bacteria in their digestive tracts to break down the proteins in dairy products.
"NO WAY," I can practically hear most of you thinking, "all my life I've been told that yogurt and cheese" (etc) "are good for my bones!"
Well you've been played, my friends!
(And BTW all this has absolutely nothing to do with lactose…a number of populations in the world are actually genetically predisposed to lactose intolerance but that's a whole separate subject.)
So I'll say it again (with feeling this time): SEVENTY PERCENT OF ALL HUMAN ADULTS simply don't have the bacterial "flora and fauna" required to digest dairy products. And if you really want to know the reason why most of us, for most of our lives, have been told the opposite is true, all you have to do is follow the money.
But wait, it gets worse. What this really boils down to is since most people's bellies simply cannot digest dairy, dairy products essentially look the same as all those weird ingredients, chemicals, and toxins when they arrive in the gut! So no matter what you've been told about dairy being a useful weapon in the fight against bone loss I guarantee you that consuming them on a regular basis will almost certainly change the entire integrity of your digestive tract (and that, my friends, is potentially the Great Satan for every aspect of your health, not just today’s conversation about bone density!!!)
So now that I'm sure I've got your attention (or maybe just frightened the hell out of you?) I bet you're especially curious which foods not only keep inflammation from occurring in the first place but even decrease chronic systemic inflammation (if you've already got it) by improving the integrity of your digestive tract?
Why VEGETABLES of course!!!
(And by now you really shouldn't be surprised about the vegetables because I bet this is about the 100th time you've heard me say that every single major world health organization - including THE World Health Organization - agrees we should be eating somewhere between 9 and 13 servings of fresh whole produce - primarily vegetables - every single day just to maintain our health!)
There are, in fact, a few calcium-containing vegetables and whole foods that, if added to the diet, could help combat bone loss but in general simply eliminating dairy products and in some cases certain types of grains and replacing those foods with more vegetables is an easy AND CHEAP way to combat osteoporosis as well as improve your health in general.
So even though I've given you quite a number of important bone-strengthening tips today I'm sure I've also cranked your stress level up a notch just thinking about all the ways in which we've all been (purposefully?) misled…I apologize for bursting some of your milk bubbles (but somebody had to tell you the truth, right?)
And if you'd like to learn A LOT more about ways to keep bones strong plus how to stay flexible and functional till the day you die, then Hockessin Chiropractic Centre's upcoming osteoporosis prevention workshop It’s Not All About Calcium is for you!
This unique interactive workshop is a perfect combination of no-gym-membership-or-equipment-required total body exercises, relaxation/meditation techniques, plus important (and yummy…you'll get to taste-test everything too!) whole-food nutrition tips guaranteed to improve the density of your bones even if you’ve already been diagnosed with either osteopenia or osteoporosis (and BTW this class definitely isn’t just for women!)
Participants can choose to learn by watching or jump right in and experience everything firsthand so grab your comfortable clothes, water bottle, and yoga mat then click here for more info and here to register (but no later than March 6th…SPACE IS LIMITED!)