Cardiovascular exercise (running, walking, aerobic dance) is very important for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and for burning fat. It is a vital part of any wellness program. But we need a balanced exercise program, which includes resistance training. According to emedicine health, resistance training is “any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of increases in strength, tone, mass, and/or endurance.” When we think of resistance training, we think of weight-lifting. Women associate this image with sweaty, grunting men at the gym and tend to shy away from resistance training. The good news is that the external resistance can include exercise bands or even one’s own body weight. Pilates and some forms of yoga are great options for resistance training.
The health benefits associated with resistance training are compelling. As we age, we lose bone mass and also muscle mass and tone. We need to regain some of that loss, or better yet prevent it to avoid serious health issues as we continue to age. Resistance training can give us stronger muscles, which helps prevent falls in our elderly years. More importantly, it helps build bone mass to prevent osteoporosis.
The topic of osteoporosis elicits a great deal of passion in me because my mother suffered from it and she took a bisphosphonate medication for it for nearly ten years. Like all medications, bisphosphonates have side effects, which include inflammation of the esophagus. When Mom later developed stage IV esophageal cancer, I suspected a link to the bisphosphonate medication, because she had no other risk factors, such as smoking or alcohol consumption. I contacted the FDA and found that they had received a total of 23 reports of esophageal cancer linked to one of the bisphosphonate medications. Although the FDA has not conducted a significant study, they have found reason for further investigation into this link. You can learn more by viewing the peer-reviewed article at http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/360/1/89.
When taking any medication, benefits have to be weighed against the risks. And in many cases, benefits do outweigh the risks, particularly when other alternatives are limited. But with osteoporosis, there are other alternatives and the best one is prevention. Resistance training is one important step that we can take to prevent osteoporosis. A healthy, calcium-rich diet, with adequate vitamin D levels is another front line of defense against osteoporosis. Vitamin D is needed to help absorb calcium and many of us are vitamin D deficient. I recently interviewed a number of physicians who commented on this deficiency, and one even stated that 80% of his patients are Vitamin D-deficient. Smoking cessation is also important. Tobacco use and alcohol can compromise bone health and lead to osteoporosis. Estrogen loss associated with menopause is also a risk factor for osteoporosis, but HRT therapy can present other risks, such as breast cancer.
We cannot eliminate menopause and family history as risk factors for osteoporosis, but we can control our alcohol and tobacco intake, diet and calcium and vitamin D levels, and we can modify our physical activity to include resistance training. We do not have to accept osteoporosis as our destiny.
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