Don’t Let the Snow Keep You From Walking.
By Christie Roy
As we age, our bones thin out and can become brittle, a condition known as osteoporosis. There are a number of ways to help prevent this condition, which can lead to broken bones — especially serious for adults over the age of 50 — and other associated health problems. One of the most effective preventative strategies is simply to take regular walks. So when it’s cold outside, it’s important to resist the urge to snuggle under a blanket. Your bones will thank you.
“Weight-bearing exercise, in which your bones and muscles work against gravity, helps build and maintain bone mass,” says Dr. Tamara D. Rozental, an orthopaedic surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Weight-bearing exercises are ones in which the feet and legs bear your weight.
“That’s where walking comes in,” she says. “It’s probably the easiest. Running and stair-climbing are also good, as is strength training with weights and weight machines. But walking for 20 to 30 minutes three times a week is just fine. It works.”
When walking, you’re carrying your body weight on your hips and legs, so those are the bones being strengthened the most. And with walking, there is less chance of falling (and potentially fracturing a bone) — something that is more likely to occur with strenuous exercise.
The Background on Bones
Bone is living tissue that responds to weight-bearing exercise by gradually becoming stronger and denser.
“Bone remodels in response to stress,” Rozental says. “It is constantly being broken down and reformed.”
In the case of osteoporosis, more bone is being broken down than is being formed, but we don’t feel that happening, so it can be easy to not pay attention to it.
“We know a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy and that’s true for your bones too, lack of activity can cause bone to thin,” she says. “Stress is necessary to stimulate the cells to form and remodel new bone.”
Risk for osteoporosis include:
- Post-menopausal age (women)
- Older age
- Family history
- Having a small, thin body build
- Using immunosuppressive medication
One in two women and one in five men over age 50 will suffer fractures due to weakened bones caused by osteoporosis. Managing your bone health is just as important as managing your heart and brain health.
Besides walking, other strategies for preventing osteoporosis include taking vitamin D and calcium supplements or one of several prescription drugs, known as antiresorptive medications, can also help maintain bone strength. But exercise — especially walking — is often an easy first-line strategy for preventing brittle bones.
Walking Depends on the Weather – or Does It?
When we think of going for a walk, though, “outdoors” is usually the place of choice. And the New England weather can, for many of us, often dictate whether we stay active or sedentary during the less-lovely months of the year.
“If it’s pouring or snowing and you skip walking once in a while, it won’t take you totally off track, but you don’t want to use the weather as an excuse to not walk,” advises Marlene DaCosta, Exercise Physiologist at the Tanger BeWell Center, part of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
The best way to prepare for bad-weather days? Have a back-up plan: there are plenty of options for walking without setting foot on the pavement:
- Call your local mall. Many malls let walkers in early and have mapped-out courses, complete with distances. Malls are usually open on most holidays, and make great walking paths for new parents pushing strollers.
- Plan your weekly trip to the supermarket for an expected bad-weather day. Do a lap around the entire store before going up and down EACH aisle.
- If your workplace has a large area to walk (such as long corridors through or around the perimeter of the office), head in early or plan to walk during lunch. Use your pedometer to determine how many steps it takes to walk around an entire floor of your building or around several floors (taking the stairs, of course). Set a goal of increasing your steps by five to 10 percent each rainy or snowy day.
- A no-brainer: climb on the treadmill, elliptical, etc., if you own or have access to one.
- If you have a good staircase in your home or access to one in your apartment building or workplace, walking up and down the stairs can be a great alternative. If you have balance issues or knee or hip pain, you may want to talk with your doctor first.
- Walk (or jog) in place while watching your favorite 30-minute TV show. Take a break during the commercials if you need to. Or, put on your favorite music while walking or jogging in place or around the house; it will add some liveliness to your step!
While these ideas will keep you dry, remember that as long as it’s safe (and you don’t mind the conditions), there’s really no reason NOT to walk in the rain or snow! Dress appropriately, including bright, reflective clothing and proper footwear.
“Wear something with good traction — traction cleats for ice and snow work well,” says DaCosta. “Don’t forget waterproof socks.”
Also, be sure to walk on sidewalks (or paths cleared of snow), be aware of vehicle traffic, and carry a cell phone for emergencies.
Whenever (and where ever) you’re walking, remember that not only are you improving your bone health, but helping the rest of your body, too.
“Walking is also good for the heart, for weight loss and for mood,” Dr. Rozental notes. “And it’s free and can be done just about anywhere, whether you’re at home, at work, or on vacation.”
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care and before starting any exercise program, consult your doctor.This is a paid partnership between Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston Magazine's City/Studio