This post was originally going to only be about osteoporosis (oss-tee-oh-pore-OH-sis) (porous bones) and would be of concern to women only, and I would not get into all the information they could easily find online. I was going to tell about the pitfalls I ran into while doing all the things needed to keep bones strong, like walking, yoga, and exercising. Well, I soon realized that those pitfalls could actually save anyone from a hospital stay, keep someone out of a wheel chair, prevent a stroke, or even death.
WARNING: DON’T ASSUME!
Now you’re probably wondering what on earth these kids have to do with this post. The caption for the picture reads “Yeah, Sis, osteoporosis really is a crying shame!” To me, this little girl is typical of the child who would eventually become that thin, small, older woman with fragile bones and break a hip because of osteoporosis. Her little consoling brother assumes, that as a male, he really won’t have to worry about this awful thing. Well, we were both wrong. First of all, men get osteoporosis too, and men and women of all backgrounds need to be aware that they could be at risk. Building strong, healthy bones begins at birth and lasts our whole life. Consequently, calcium-rich foods, along with sunshine for vitamin D, and plenty of physical activity are essential even early in life. It’s like building a savings account of strong bones for adulthood. Little did I know that all of us start losing bone about age 30 when the rate of bone building slows down as the rate of bone loss picks up. How wrong I was to assume that I never had to worry about osteoporosis because I didn’t fit the profile of that little girl.
You might be thinking, (assuming) that you don’t have to worry because your bones feel just fine. Osteoporosis is a “silent disease” where your bones become fragile and break easily causing terrible pain. Here’s the sad part and the real crying shame: Very fragile bones can break from something as simple as a hug, sneezing, bending over, bumping into furniture or even spontaneously–you don’t have to fall to break a bone, your bones can break, causing you to fall! I like the way it’s described in The Surgeon General’s Report: With osteoporosis, your body’s frame becomes like the frame of a house damaged by termites. Termites weaken your house like osteoporosis weaken your bones.
One in five people with a hip fracture will most likely end up in a nursing home within a year and others may be confined to a wheel chair, or worse!
Now I’m pretty savvy about taking charge of my health and keeping up with tests women should have at different stages of life. However, because of my assumption that I wasn’t a candidate for osteoporosis, I never thought to ask for the pain-free, 10-15 minute bone density test. This is an x-ray showing how strong your bones are, and my doctor never mentioned it. I became concerned and asked for the test only after a dear friend, with osteoporosis, fell and broke her wrist. The most common breaks in weak bones are in the wrist, spine and hip, but any bone can be affected. Early detection is critical because by the time any symptoms (pain or fracture) become apparent, the disease process is already far advanced.
Now here is something to think about: What if our primary care doctor had a form in front of every patient’s chart, one for men and one for women, listing all the tests we should have according to our age and risk factors? That form would have been right there in plain sight making my doctor aware of when I was due to have a bone density test, and I could have been spared the diagnosis now of osteopenia (thinning bones). (How about also putting the patient’s photograph with the form? It would be especially helpful in the chart of patients hospitalized or in nursing homes. How many injuries or deaths occur each year as a result of patients getting the wrong treatment or medication due to misidentification?)
KNOW YOUR RISKS
I’m sure we have all heard about the wonderful benefits of tai chi and yoga. One day our well-qualified yoga instructor said that anyone with heart disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma or certain health problems, should not do the next poses. Well, I assumed she didn’t mean me because my one and only medication is for high blood pressure and I assumed it was under control, therefore I did the poses. When I got home and took my blood pressure because I didn’t feel “quite right” it was sky high. Those poses, called inversions, are a group of yoga positions where your hips or legs are higher than your heart, or the heart is higher than the head,
spiking your blood pressure and increasing your risk for stroke or other cardiac event. Of course there was no need to stop the classes, I just stopped doing those poses.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Because I’m not crazy about exercising, I was elated when one day I read an article promising to reverse bone loss in just ten minutes a day. I assumed this meant that I never ever had to exercise again. It turned out that they were talking about isometric resistance movements. Thankfully, I went online to research this claim. The warning in several articles was in big bold print stating “If you have high blood pressure or any heart problems you must avoid doing isometrics.” It causes your blood pressure to rise to extremely high levels leading to fainting, headaches, even stroke. This is due to what’s known as the valsalva maneuver which happens when we’re grunting or straining, holding our breath and not breathing properly while exercising. I’m not going to attempt to fully explain it here, but see website at the end of this post and I urge you to read all about it.
KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS
Walking is one of the best exercises we can do because of all the health benefits. How glad I was when our new community center opened and had an indoor walking track. Just 16 laps around the track equals one mile. I was under the assumption that surely I could walk a mile without stopping, so I started out like I was in training for race walking. Around lap 12 or 13 I started slowing down and realized I was not breathing right and was straining and forcing myself to continue. (Why is it so many of us don’t know how to breathe when it comes to exercising? Instead of breathing openly and freely, we actually do the opposite and hold our breath.) At lap 15 I wasn’t feeling “quite right” but told myself I could do one more lap, but my body told me to quit and go home. To shorten this story, at home I waited for my blood pressure to come down but it continued to steadily rise. It was well pass time to call 911 when it reached 230/180–I was experiencing the valsalva effect. This assumption that I was physically prepared to walk a mile, put me in hospital for two days having all kinds of tests including a heart catheterization.
Lesson learned–ASSUMPTIONS CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH!
So what’s this sleepy looking bear have to do with anything? Good news! Research is underway at several medical centers and universities to find out why bears are able to maintain their bone strength following months of hibernation. Let’s hope this research leads to preventing and reversing bone loss and finding better treatment options for osteoporosis in the future.
See “Move It! You’re Losing It” and “Are You What You Eat?” to read more about saving your most valuable “assets”–your bones and muscles.
See “Simple Salmon” for a quick and easy bone-building recipe.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation (http://www.nof.org) has more information than you can imagine.
Be sure to have your vision checked. A recent report discovered that having surgery to correct cataracts resulted in fewer broken hips from falls in older people. It would be a good idea to have your hearing checked also, especially if you think everybody is whispering.