The Dancer’s Solution to Osteoporosis

November 23rd, 2012 by Tonya Zavasta

Dance ClassHearing the word “osteoporosis” often brings on fear, especially for middle-aged women who’ve lost weight, whether deliberately or otherwise. But it can affect anyone at any age. The usual advice—Take something for it—in this case is calcium. Take calcium supplements and drink milk, they say.

Calcium Supplements Not the Answer

I have explained in Raw Foods and Osteoporosis how the key with calcium is the absorption, not the amount. My objection here is to our culture’s presumption that adding something, consuming more, bringing in a new supplement, is always the answer to whatever ails us.

Hula Dancing?

A lady emailed me via my website. Worried about how to head off osteoporosis, or reverse it once begun, she asked me what to do. And she lives, incidentally, in Hawaii. My answer would be: Hula dancing. Yup—you heard me right.

Fact: There’s a link between controlled eating and weight-bearing exercise on the one hand, and good bone density on the other.

A 1995 British study compared ballet dancers with a control group of non-dancers. Diet was recorded, but not especially tightly controlled. Training patterns and exercise levels were carefully recorded. Researchers found a solid correlation between good, high bone mineral density and the kinds of exercises dancers do—those that focus on the legs and pelvis. (Physical Activity, Body Composition and Bone Density in Ballet Dancers. W.D. van Marken Lichtenbelt et al. British Journal of Nutrition 1995 Oct;74(4):439-51.)

There’s a clear message here: Dancing helps your bones!

Dance Your Way to Health

Under-utilizing key musculoskeletal systems—legs and pelvis prime among these—is a cause of osteoporosis. Why? Because, as science now knows, bones adapt to the stress of weight-bearing exercise by altering their microstructure. Translation: Exercise helps head off osteoporosis.

But back, now, to that fearful image, burned into the head of any woman “of a certain age” who worries about osteoporosis, and that seemingly inevitable fall. Reading the Journal of Bone Mineral Metabolism isn’t the remedy she’s hoped for. Dancing, however, may well be. So…dance.

Not a ballet or hula-dancing kind of chick? Something else, then. A jazz dance class for beginners. Somewhere nearby, for you country-western fans, they’re still teaching line dancing. Many extension programs will offer Introduction to Dance classes, exploring numerous styles, so you can pick and choose what fits you best.

Careful but Steady

Be careful. I would be happy to see you start mall-walking, if that’s your first exercise in years. But strolling won’t cut it, as far as bone health is concerned. Stressing the bones of the legs and pelvis is what’s necessary here, in a way at least a little similar to the way dancers do. Key phrase: weight-bearing. Leg presses at the gym will do nicely. You can do simple squats at home as well, though you’ll need to perform lots of those over the course of a week.

Get Out There!

Raw Food and Hot YogaBut get out there. Diet matters, no doubt, and does link importantly with the exercise regime you choose. Check out my book, Raw Food and Hot Yoga, especially the chapter “Feed Your Bones Right,” to make sure your bones are receiving and absorbing the nutrients they need.

But exercise—weight-bearing exercise, remember—matters every bit as much in delaying or preventing osteoporosis and getting your bones to optimum health now.

Yes, you can dance your way to better health!

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