Feeling Down? Move Your Body!

Feeling Down? Move Your Body!

Yes, we have had a lot to worry about lately. And as you read this, I hope you are well. Statistically, someone reading this either has had COVID or has a friend or relative that does. Numbers are hard to ignore. So I am wearing my mask faithfully, knowing that prevention is the only way to prevent others from contacting the virus. We will prevail.

BUT HOW TO?

Well today it was 45 degrees, sunny, warm enough for my husband and I to take a long walk in our neighborhood. We used to live in Westlake Village, California, where our walks took us toward views of the low hills of the Santa Monica mountains. If we were really feeling adventurous, we would drive to locations where the hills were higher, the views even more spectacular and our bodies covered in sweat on our return.

Walking, hiking is so good for us. It’s a treat for our souls and for our bodies, and in some ways even more so for females.

BONE HEALTH

Bone health is important for both men and women. But as we age we often take it for granted. Our bodies are subtly or not so subtly changing and the statistics for bone breaks increase. Friends break a wrist, an ankle, a leg. Everyone wants to avoid this; no one wants appointments to the local orthopedist or physical therapist to fill your calendar.

Preserving bone, preventing falls and their subsequent breaks is crucial to overall health. Strong dense bones insure good posture, physical strength for work and activities, and good balance. A strong skeletal frame directly impacts physical appearance. People with healthy bones feel and look youthful. Bone health also increases psychological health. You can do more, embrace life without loss of balance, a bad fall and a debilitating bone break.

KEYS TO KEEPING BONE STRONG:

  • a diet rich in calcium; calcium supplements; and Vitamin D from sun exposure for calcium absorption;
  • avoiding the negative impact of smoking and alcohol; seeking out a good physician who can evaluate you for osteoporosis and how to stop or prevent its growth;

Osteoporosis is a disease of the bone that affects almost half of men or women over the age of 75, though women are five times more likely to develop the disease. Women have thinner and smaller bones to begin with and after menopause, usually around age 50, they lose bone mass as their bodies no longer produce estrogen, a bone-protecting hormone.

Bone is living tissue that throughout life goes through the process of constant formation (new bone is formed) and resorption (old bone is broken down). Aging changes the process in both men and women. More bone is lost then new is formed. The skeleton slowly declines. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones;” the word describes bones that have lost an excessive amount of protein and mineral content—especially calcium.  Bone mass and bone strength have decreased. Your bones become vulnerable to breaks.

WHERE WE WERE AND WHERE WE ARE NOW…

Previously it was assumed that this bone aging process could not be stopped. Our grandparents, and possibly our mothers and grandmothers, suffered height loss because of compression fractures in their vertebrae. These fractures often led to the formation of an abnormal kyphosis or dowager hump on the upper back. Debilitating hip and leg breaks often meant the duration of life was spent in a wheel chair.

Now post-menapausal women have options to keep bone strong and avoid the bone loss of previous generations. Calcium in the diet and weight-bearing exercise can help ward off osteoporosis. Bone density scans are used to check for osteopenia—the early stage of osteoporosis. Healthcare providers recommend the right amount of calcium supplements and stress diets rich in calcium and other minerals. For people who are at great risk for the disease or have rapidly advancing bone loss, providers often prescribe bisphosphonate medications like BonivaR and FosamaxR that can slow or stop the progression of osteoporosis.

THE GUYS TOO…

Men also need to be aware that by the age of 65 or 70 they are losing bone at the same rate as women. Though osteoporosis is often considered a woman’s problem, there are 2 million men in the United States with this disease. (an older statistic that could have increased)

The key is to keep bone strong by stimulating new bone growth. Any activity that puts increased stress on your bones, making your bones and muscles work against gravity (weight-bearing exercise) will help you build healthy bone. So are you doing any of these:

Walking, race walking, weight-vest walking, jogging, running

Aerobics, step aerobics

Cycling, if you can increase the resistance as some gym machines allow

Climbing stairs

Dancing, especially contra dancing, tap-dancing, polka and other folk dances that involve stomping and hopping

Soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball, softball, pickle ball

Gymnastics, Weightlifting, Jumping rope, Martial arts, Bowling, Yoga, Pilates

Housework and yardwork: cleaning, gardening, shoveling snow!

THE BENEFITS OF YOGA

Paula Secker, an instructor of Anusara-Inspired Yoga, explains that the weight of your own body is utilized to create this weight-bearing exercise. Bones are strengthened as muscles of the body pull, hug, and shorten bone to achieve yoga poses keeping bone strong. Secker mentions popular yoga poses like downward facing dog and plank for hip, arm and leg bone strengthening. All standing yoga poses work the legs, and arm-balancing poses strengthen the upper body, which is often weak in women.

She emphasizes an additional benefit of yoga: it enlivens, opens and increases the energy of the body and body fluids like blood. Fluids enervate the entire body, working to increase the rate of bone cell production.

She also stresses that loss of balance is a great concern as people age—leg muscles weaken and other systems like vision, nerves and body receptors don’t supply the right signals to the brain. Once again Secker recommends yoga, as many poses require balance, and repetition and mastery is just what the brain needs to reestablish stability.

Yoga helps achieve body awareness and good posture. Poses require constant realigning of the body, particularly how the head sits on the shoulders. This fights forward head posture, a sign of aging, which is often exacerbated by computer work and weak musculature.

Do you sit at a computer often, like I do?

Secker stresses that there is a relationship between proper positioning of the head and the straightening of the torso and body core. Aligning the head to center position automatically tones the core and torso. Practice this when driving, imagining a cosmic head rest holding your head upright and keeping your body straight.

And make sure you add weight-bearing activity to your schedule every day. For starters—take the stairs!

So, thanks for reading….and I found this “creative stuff” –don’t know when or why I wrote it…

There’s a bar at one end of the room with cold reflecting counters and stacks of shiny glasses, donuts and sweet rolls, chocolate candies. I say to myself: “Everything but illicit sex.”

Also: But then I am walking around in my tight pants that are even tighter after the weekend. And if I were in a photo in some newspaper, the caption would read, “Woman about to go on a diet.” or woman should be exercising and going on a diet.

How is your body doing with Covid, and being indoors so much???

 

Osteoporosis and Thoughts on My Mother’s Aging

Osteoporosis and Thoughts on My Mother's Aging

Mom and Me.

(This is an update of a post I wrote years before my mother died on 3/19/13.)

At the age of thirty-four, my mother found herself a widow with three children, one only three months old.  Despite the sorrow that engulfed her, she was not afraid to ask for what she needed at this difficult time in her life.

With help from family members, she got a typing job that she could do at home.  It allowed her to pay the bills and care for us. This was in the 1950s when the holy grail for all women was to be a stay-at-home-mom.

Once I heard her tell the story of a woman who came to my father’s funeral, suggesting that mom give my baby brother up for adoption.  The answer to that—an immediate no!  In her pain she made the right decision.  Her life became raising her three children and though like every mother she had her hard days, she took great joy in her role.  She has always been proud of how we turned out.  She has always known how to accept changes in her life.

When my mother moved to an assisted-living facility at the age of ninety-one, she was very vertical—still standing tall.

“I’m the only person at my table who doesn’t need a walker,” she told me.

My mother has walked faster than most people all her life—to and from the train and then to her secretarial position at a downtown office.  Her hard work at home paid off.  But that first week in assisted living she walked so fast down the carpeted hallways, her rubber sole caught and she fell.  She was okay.

“I never fell at my condo.  It’s got to be this new place,” she said, throwing back to us that this new place wasn’t the greatest idea.

Adjusting was not easy for her.  It wouldn’t be for anyone.  It’s like high school—suddenly there are all these new faces and you are just one of the crowd until you can learn people’s names, create your own individual identity and make friends.  It’s a challenge, especially when you have memory problems and are in your 90s.  My mother’s solution: “We should wear name tags.  It’s hard to remember so many names.”

That first year she walked briskly back and forth twice a day to an adjacent building to visit her sister Lucia.  Then at 96 my aunt died.  My brothers and I helped my mother plan the funeral and then we went back to our busy lives and mother went to her apartment to grieve.  It was summer and she walked outside every day, straight and proud, until she fell again.  This time an X-ray showed a broken rib and compressed vertebra.  My mother was in pain, the pain of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a thief in the night.  It reverses pain’s usual course.  When you have a broken bone, acute appendicitis, or even childbirth labor—that pain can come on like gangbusters.  Then gradually the power of the healing body and medical care takes over and the pain recedes.  But not with the disease osteoporosis.  It’s a sleeper, a silent condition that gradually weakens the composition of your bones and you are not forewarned until they become so brittle they break or just collapse.  It’s often a woman’s disease.  Now it was forever my mother’s disease.

Where were the researchers and doctors when my mother was going through menopause?  They didn’t know then the connection between that body change and osteoporosis.  If they had they could have helped my mom and millions like her.  Maybe you’ve wondered about your grandmother who was 5’5” and is now 5’2” because the vertebrae in her back have collapsed and she is gradually shrinking.  Or maybe you have a story in your own family about an aunt who fell and broke her hip.  After a while you learn that didn’t happen because she knocked into a stone wall or tripped over the dog.  Instead one of the bones in her hip joint just suddenly gave way and broke and down she went.  It’s scary and very painful.

Boomers are lucky.  Mom didn’t know what we now know: you can fight the onset of osteoporosis or help control it by stressing your bones, lifting weights, eating calcium-rich foods.  There are even medications you can take.  I passed my first bone density test armed with this information.  But what I now know cannot reverse the degeneration in my mother’s bones or get rid of her pain.

After the break, Mom had to leave assisted living and move to skilled nursing.  She had to use a wheelchair.  Her pride was hurt but her body was hurting even more.  She followed all the rules and shrugged her shoulders when I told her she would have physical therapy twice a day.  She did everything they told her to do and improved.  But more and more I could see her back rounding, kyphosis or dowager hump, they call it.  Again it’s osteoporosis—the spine no longer straight.  One day the physical therapist mentioned a walker.  Mom didn’t want one.

“Look on the bright side.  You’ll get out of the wheel chair.  The walker is for your safety.  We’ll get you the cart-type with the wheels, like some of your friends have.  You’ll have room for your purse or your newspaper.  And if you tire, there’s a place for you to sit.”

She was silent.  My fast-paced and independent mother had just had her wings clipped.

“I don’t want this to happen.  I want to be like that other lady.  I can’t remember her name.  You know.  The one with the pearls.”

She meant Lucy.  A year younger than my mother, her body straight and tall, Lucy didn’t need a walker or a cane.   She was a dynamo, blessed with good health, always smiling, greeting everyone—and she often wore a string of pearls.

“She knows everyone here,” my mother said.  “She plays bridge.  Everybody likes her.”  Yes, just like high school.  My mother was jealous, but I understood.

Mom moved back to her apartment and progressed.  She continued with physical therapy until one day she just announced to the therapist, “I’m fine.  Don’t come back.”  Months passed.  She used her walker most days.  At the end of that summer, we had a family reunion in Michigan.  We took a portrait of all of us, my mother sitting in a chair right in the middle of eighteen wonderful people, all gathered together because of her.

Mom remained stable for a while.  On one visit to see her, we went to the dining room.  Mom parked her walker just as Lucy came around the corner.  We asked her to join us.  That night we learned that Lucy had been an only child.  There were tears in her eyes when she told us she had never married or had children, that she worked in a law office doing a job she loved, and then gave the rest of her time to care for her mother who died in her late eighties.  That was Lucy’s life.

Back upstairs in her apartment Mom eased herself into her chair.  I handed her the photo from the reunion.  Her family.  She smiled.  She said something about all the blessings in her life.  Maybe Mom was already thinking what I was thinking.  Our lives often wear down and mark our mortal bodies.  But it’s our souls and spirits that shine through weakness and aging.  Lucy’s beauty was not her string of pearls or her ability to walk without an aid.  It was her smile and generosity to her mother and to everyone she knew that made people want to be with her.  My mother’s beauty was exactly the same, but not as easy to outwardly see because her body was now bent with osteoporosis and her memory of names failing her.

I suddenly asked her, “What would you do if you fell in the hallway, Mom?  You know when I’m not here I worry about you.”

Again she smiled, a smile that revealed her deep and vital spirit.  She fingered the safety button around her neck.  “I’d push this to call for the nurse.  I’d call for someone to help me.  And I guess I’d hope that Lucy would be in the hall.  Lucy would help me.”

(Mom and Lucy were separated when Mom moved to the Memory Unit.  Lucy never suffered from dementia or osteoporosis, but Mom did outlive her by six months.)