Preventing Bone Loss

Even if you’re in your 20s, it’s not too early to start thinking about bone loss.

“Osteoporosis is not a disease of the elderly,” says Heather Giordano, exercise physiologist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox. “You reach your peak bone mass around your mid-30s; if you haven’t been building it before that, you can’t hit your full potential.”

The key to developing stronger bones is doing regular weight-bearing exercise and eating a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D and magnesium, says Heather. “Luckily, it’s exactly the healthy diet we espouse at Canyon Ranch, with lots of green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and dairy products. If you don’t eat dairy, other calcium sources abound, from kale and other greens to fortified cereals, tahini, soybeans, fish and more.

“Our bodies are constantly breaking down and rebuilding bone our whole lives,” says Heather. “Two types of cells are involved in bone health: osteoblasts, which build bone, and osteoclasts, which erode it. As we start to age, the osteoclasts start to gain a little momentum and we’re no longer able to replace bone tissue as quickly as we lose it.”

Risk factors for bone loss include:

  •  Smoking
  •  Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Sedentary lifestyle,
  • Having a small, thin frame (especially women)
  • Post-menopausal loss of estrogen

Bones can be strengthened at any age, says Heather, but the risk of developing osteoporosis increases as we get older. As bone loss progresses, falls become a major risk. The best way to prevent falls is regular strength, balance and agility training, she says. “Ninety percent of hip fractures result from falling.”

To build bone strength, add 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise like hiking or brisk walking to your fitness regimen four days a week, Heather advises. To prevent falls, maintain strength by including exercises such as squats, plank and pushups 2 to 3 times a week.

“You’ve got to impact your bones to improve bone density and bone health,” says Heather. “Big, explosive actions are best, like hopping or jumping over cones – but work with a trainer to be sure you land safely.”

For guests concerned about bone health, she suggests starting with a DEXA bone density scan, followed by a consultation with a Ranch nutritionist to check for any dietary deficiencies. “Then we look at posture, balance and strength, and put together an exercise program balancing weight-bearing with cardiovascular exercise.”

Wearing a weight vest, weighing 10 to 15 pounds, is a great way to maximize weight-bearing activities like walking or hiking, says Heather. “I worked with a woman in her fifties who loved to hike, but didn’t like going to the gym. She put on a weight vest and hiked, and when we retested her a year later, she had significantly increased bone density in her hips.”