By now you are aware that the body tends to deteriorate if you don’t use it often enough. Muscles get weaker, endurance decreases, and balance suffers.
We also know that we can counteract this process with the right types of exercise. Muscles get stronger when you strength train, endurance improves when you elevate your heart rate, and balance improves when you practice balancing.
Your bones are no different. Without the right stimulation, bones can become less dense and more prone to breaking. No doubt you’ve seen countless commercials about osteoporosis and its predecessor osteopenia. Of course, the commercials are always touting drugs as the answer. I’ll leave that part between you and your doctor.
What I want to talk about are exercises that you can do to help your bone density. Even if you don’t have osteoporosis, it’s still wise to think about keeping your bones strong through exercise.
A German surgeon from the 19th century named Julius Wolff was the first to explain that bones grow stronger in response to the pressures placed on them. This is now known as Wolff’s Law.
Naturally, exercising and movement place pressure on your bones whereas sitting and relaxing don’t. Let’s dig a little deeper, though. There are three factors that play into the total pressure your bones receive over time.
1. Amount – How much pressure is produced by a certain activity? Some activities create more than others.
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2. Duration – How long are the bones subjected to this pressure? Five minutes? An hour?
3. Frequency – How often are the bones subjected to this pressure? Once a week? Seven days a week?
All three of those factors are important. If you do an exercise that produces a good amount of pressure on the bones but you only do it once a week, it isn’t going to help as much as it would if you did it four days per week.
Likewise, if you do a certain exercise for a good duration and fairly frequently but it only produces a small amount of pressure, that isn’t going to help much either.
There are two ways to create the pressure that stimulates your bones. The first is weight-bearing activities. Weight-bearing means that you are standing and the weight of your body is pressing down through your skeleton to the floor.
That force of your bodyweight on your bones is what stimulates bone growth, so simply standing in place is good for the bones. On the other hand, any activity done sitting is not weight-bearing because the chair is supporting your weight instead of your bones.
Even better than standing in place is standing and moving around. When you are moving around not only are you bearing the weight of your body, but your feet also leave the ground momentarily before impacting the ground again.
For instance, think about walking. As you push off, your foot leaves the ground and then impacts the floor as you move forward. That impact creates a much greater pressure on the bones than if you were to just stand in place.
You want to be careful not to have too much impact, though, as that can be more force than the bones can handle. Running and jumping are probably too high of impact for most people reading this. That’s why you will often see the term “low-impact” when describing optimal exercise for stronger bones. A low-impact exercise produces enough impact to stimulate the bones but not so much as to be potentially dangerous.
Walking fits that description perfectly. Marching in place and dancing are also good options. I’m sure you can think of some more examples.Health and Fitness After Sixty Volume 1 Issue 9 © Breakthrough Fitness Systems, LLC 3
If you have osteoporosis or osteopenia you should talk with your doctor about your exercise plan. He may recommend that you avoid certain exercises or movements depending on what bones are the weakest.
The other way to create pressure is through strength training. When your muscle contracts forcefully to move a weight, it pulls on the bones that it connects to, which is how you get a movement. That pulling also stimulates bone growth.
You can strength train with hand weights, bands, machines, or even just your bodyweight. I recommend 2-3 times per week for 20-30 minutes. The resistance you use should be hard enough that the muscle you are using during a particular exercise starts to feel tired by the time you get to around 10-15 repetitions.
A Great Exercise for the Bones
Going up and down one stair is a great exercise for the bones. You are weight-bearing, and because you are lifting your entire bodyweight upwards against gravity it’s also a strength training exercise. Here’s how to do it:
Stand at the bottom of your staircase like you were about to go upstairs. Put your right foot on the first step, and then step up, bringing the left foot up to that same step. As you step up you will push through the right foot that was on the step first. Now step back down with both feet. Step down with your right foot first and then the left.
Right Up – Left Up – Right Down – Left Down
Repeat 10-15 times and then do it again with the left foot going up first. On top of the weight-bearing and strength training features, you also get a good amount of impact as you come down from the step back to where you started. You can watch a video of this exercise at http://www.movingwithmikedvd.com/1/step-ups.html.
I encourage you to take a few minutes and analyze your daily activities and your exercise plan. How much standing are you getting? Of that standing, how much of involves movement that creates impact? And how much strength-training are you doing? Think about how you might increase the amount, duration, and frequency of pressure your bones experience each week.Health and Fitness After Sixty Volume 1 Issue 9 © Breakthrough Fitness Systems, LLC 4
Insights into Unconscious Eating
For a long time I’ve believed that when, what, and how much people eat have very little to do with how hungry they are. Rather, I think that most of our bad eating habits just happen unconsciously.
Brian Wasnick, Ph.D, the director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab would agree with me, and for many years he has been studying the subtle forces that cause us to eat more than we should.
Here are some of the lessons he has learned from his research, which he has written about in his book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think:
Containers Distort Our Understanding of Portion Size
Dr. Wasnick has found that people eat more when using a large plate than when using a smaller plate. At the movie theater, people eat more popcorn if they are given the extra large container than if they are given the regular container. Also, children pour twice as much cereal into a 16-ounce bowl compared to an 8-ounce bowl (I assume adults would behave similarly).
This increase in consumption doesn’t happen just because the larger container holds more food. What’s also happening is the larger container is distorting our brain’s perception of quantity.
For example, one serving of pasta takes up the same amount of space on a larger or smaller plate, but on a larger plate that space is a smaller portion of the whole plate since the larger plate has more total space available. To our brain, that same serving actually looks smaller on the large plate, so we take more.
Things to think about: How big is your plate? How big is your cup? Do you tend to order the larger food or drink or the smaller one? Do you buy the huge bag of chips or the smaller bag?Health and Fitness After Sixty Volume 1 Issue 9 © Breakthrough Fitness Systems, LLC 5
Thinking Something Is Healthy Can Cause Us to Eat More of It
When people eat something that is labeled low-fat, they tend to eat more of it than if they were eating the normal version. In one study, people given low-fat granola ate 35% more than those given regular granola. That kind of defeats the purpose.
Things to think about: Is the idea that something is health or low-fat or low-calorie giving you license to eat more of it than you should? Is that thing actually healthy, or just a slightly better version of an unhealthy food?
You Eat What Your Eyes See
Dr. Wasnick has also observed people eating candy. People eat more candy when the candy bowl is close by than when it is out of reach, and they also eat more candy when the candy bowl is clear and they can see the candy in it than when they can’t see what’s inside.
It seems that just seeing food makes you want it more, and if you don’t even have to get up to get it, that’s even better.
Similarly, when people have a family meal and leave the pots and serving platters on the table, Wasnick found that they eat more than if they leave the food on the counter or stove and have to get up to refill their plates.
Things to think about: The eyes often have more to say about what we eat than our stomachs. When you walk through the kitchen and see a glass jar full of colorful candy, you mindlessly take a piece, but if that candy was tucked away in the pantry you probably wouldn’t.
That’s why it’s good to make healthy food more visible and unhealthy food less visible. Put your fruits, nuts, and other healthy snacks out on the counter where you will see them as you walk by. Hide your junk food in the pantry, a lower drawer, or a higher shelf in the cupboard where you won’t see it.
When you’re eating a meal, don’t bring all the food to the table right in front of you. Just having it there means you’ll see it and keep taking more and more even though you are no longer hungry.
Keep it out of sight.
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The more you think about it, the more you’ll realize that a lot of what you eat is determined unconsciously. When you start to identify these patterns, you can then stop them and even put those forces to work for you.
Choosing a smaller plate or a smaller bowl and putting unhealthy food or second helpings out of sight can significantly reduce your calorie intake, and you won’t feel deprived or hungry, because those extra calories were never eaten because of hunger in the first place. They were mindless calories.
The Power of the Pedometer
I’ve stressed over and over that you need to incorporate more activity into your daily life, whether that be regimented exercise or just more movement throughout the day.
A great way to encourage more activity is by buying a pedometer. If you don’t know, a pedometer is a low-cost little gadget that clips onto your pants and measures how many steps you take per day.
Research has shown that people who wear pedometers tend to take about 2000 more steps per day than those who don’t. They aren’t sure exactly why that happens, but I would think that the feedback from looking at the pedometer throughout the day and seeing the number of steps acts as both a little personal reward for what you have done so far and also as a motivator to do more the rest of the day to see how high you can get the number up to.
Regardless, 2000 is a lot of steps! And I believe that a person who takes that many more steps on a daily basis is going to be healthier in the long run.
Buying a Pedometer
You can find a large variety of pedometers at Walmart, Target, and online at Amazon.com and other websites. They range in price from $1 to $40 or more. You do really get what you pay for. You can expect that the ones under $10 will not be very accurate and probably break or malfunction fairly quickly.
The more expensive ones tend to come with more features, like measuring distance and calories, the ability to save data from previous days, the ability to upload to a computer, and even a heart rate monitor.Health and Fitness After Sixty Volume 1 Issue 9 © Breakthrough Fitness Systems, LLC 7
Truthfully, I don’t think most of those features are necessary. We really just want something that tracks steps accurately, although some people also like to see their total distance for the day. You should be able to get a good one that does steps and distance for about $20.
Testing Your Pedometer
Once you get it, just take it out of the box, turn it on and check that the step counter is set to zero. Then clip it onto your pants. Read the manual to make sure, but usually you attach it out to the side of the hip or in the front above your pants pocket.
Take 20 normal walking steps either around the house or outside. Count your steps in your head. Then stop and check your pedometer to see if it registered 20 steps. If it shows 19 or 21, I wouldn’t worry about that, but if it shows 10 or 30 you may want to move it to a different area on your pants and try again.
Some pedometers will have a sensitivity adjustment, so if the step count is too high, lower the sensitivity, or raise it if the count is too low, then try again.
Try to wear your pedometer all day long, and always attach it in the same spot. Then at the end of the day, write down how many steps it says you took. Track this for a week and see how your step count varied from day to day.
Figure out your average amount of steps. For many people that will be in the 5000-8000 range. Now you have a starting point.
The recommended goal to work up to is 10,000 steps per day, but you don’t want to jump up to that right away. Try to add about 500-1000 more daily steps each week or every other week.
So if you start at 6000 steps per day, do 6500 or 7000 the next week, and add another 500-1000 steps a week or two later. This will give your body time to adjust and adapt to the increased weekly workload. Pretty soon you’ll be at the 10,000 range.
Remember, these steps aren’t all categorized as exercise, although more of that is certainly good. Anything you do that is standing and moving around will count towards your total, and ultimately count towards better health.Health and Fitness After Sixty Volume 1 Issue 9 © Breakthrough Fitness Systems, LLC 8
Check your pedometer a couple times throughout the day to see how many steps you’ve taken so far. At lunch time you might check it and see that you already are having a good day and you’re going to make it to your goal without a problem. Or you might check it and see that you’re lower than usual for this time of day, so maybe you’ll plan to be more active in the afternoon.
The pedometer is essentially an indicator of your total daily movement, and it can also help motivate you to move more. That’s pretty good for $20. In fact, I think I’ll get one for myself.
QnA with Mike
Question: Is it best to eat before or after my workout?
Answer: In terms of a full meal, that would be best to have after a workout. Exercise breaks down muscle fibers and depletes energy stores. When you eat after exercise, the protein you eat helps rebuild muscle and the carbohydrates you eat help replenish your energy stores.
To me, knowing that the food I am eating after a workout is being used to rebuild my body helps me choose healthier foods. Do I want to rebuild my muscles out of chicken or out of a hot dog? Do I want to refuel my energy stores with green beans and brown rice or with a cookie?
The main reason you don’t want to eat a full meal before a workout is that it takes energy for your body to digest and absorb the food you eat. I’ve written before about how when we exercise the body reroutes most of our blood flow to the muscles. Similarly, when you eat a meal, a good portion of your blood is directed to the digestive system.
The body needs that blood to help digestion, but if you exercise right after a meal, it also needs that blood to keep the muscles working. You can’t effectively run both systems at once. If you have some blood directed to the muscles and some directed to the digestive system, both systems will be running below optimal capacity.Health and Fitness After Sixty Volume 1 Issue 9 © Breakthrough Fitness Systems, LLC 9
A natural follow-up question, then, is how long should you wait after eating a meal before you exercise? The more food you eat, the longer it takes to digest. If it is a large meal, wait about 3-4 hours. A smaller meal, like a sandwich, would require about 2 hours.
Just because I don’t recommend a full meal before a workout doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have anything. There is some research that shows there are benefits to exercising on an empty stomach, but I have seen enough people pass out from low blood sugar while exercising that I’m convinced it’s not worth it, especially for people over 60.
It’s just not a good idea to try to force the body to exercise while you’re tank is running on empty. That’s why a little snack (100-200 calories) before exercising is usually a good idea if it’s been more than 3-4 hours since your last meal, provided you choose a healthy snack.
That will give you a little bit of food to prevent you from running completely out of gas without having so much food in your stomach that it weighs you down and competes for blood flow with your muscles.
If you had a big meal about 3-4 hours ago or a smaller meal about 2 hours ago, then a snack isn’t necessary because your energy stores should be fully charged from that meal.
By ensuring your body has a little fuel in the tank before you exercise, and providing it with a good meal after your workout, you should be supplying the nutrients your body needs to get a good workout and rebuild itself afterwards.
Disclaimer – This newsletter is solely for educational and informational purposes and is not medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose or treat an illness. Its contents are not meant to be a substitute for medication, medical treatment, or medical advice from your doctor. Consult a physician before engaging in a new exercise program. The author and Breakthrough Fitness Systems, LLC, disclaim any liability for harm directly or indirectly caused by the contents of this newsletter.