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Oh My Aching Bones!

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The expression, “Youth is wasted on the young!” takes on added meaning with each passing year. Their energy and endless ability to sit, stand, bend, bounce and stretch without so much as a single creaking joint is a wonder — and it begs the question, “Did I used to do that?!”

As we age our bone structure changes, which means that they can become weaker and at greater risk of breaks. Osteoporosis, a bone disease that results from losing too much bone, occurs in about half of the population over the age of 50, and for women who have gone through menopause, a decrease in bone density is pretty much a given. In addition to changes to the actual bones, joints also become less flexible and the fluids that lubricate them become thinner or decrease. Cartilage in the knees and hips can degenerate. In addition, women are more likely to experience changes to finger joints.

There is a myth that obesity can guard against fractures and osteoporosis because the “extra padding” offers protection. Unfortunately, that is not the case. On the contrary, obesity further impacts bone health. Excess weight adds disproportionate stress to bones to cause soft tissue damage and excessive wear-and-tear. For example, for every one pound of additional weight a person carries, the knees experience about four to six pounds of pressure (each!). Although the knees and hips bear the brunt of obesity, the spine, shoulders, hands, feet and ankles can also experience problems. Besides the stress of weight on bones, there are also several hormonal issues that negatively impact bone health through bone loss and fragility and a higher number of fractures.

All is not lost, however! Inactivity contributes to bone issues, so now is as good a time as any to start an exercise program.  Start slowly with something you enjoy (swimming? walking? yoga?) so that you will be more motivated to continue doing it. In addition, calcium and vitamin D deficiencies contribute to orthopedic issues; supplementing these can help counter some negative effects. Research also tells us that alcohol and tobacco can contribute to weak bones, so cutting back when possible could be beneficial. Your doctor is the best person to help figure out what and how much change makes sense for you.

Remember that every little steps counts — in this case, literally! We would all love to wake up tomorrow and see a slender face with defined cheek bones looking back at us, but weight loss is a process. And we know from experience that it’s a much slower process for some of us. It is so worth it. To be healthier, getting better sleep and moving more freely (and maybe even sit, stand, bend, bounce and stretch!) are great goals, and this extends beyond physical improvement to include mental well being. Small changes can lead to big differences, so take a few more steps today than you did yesterday as a start. And get your stretching in by giving yourself a good pat on the back for the effort!

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