Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Bony Issue

Are you a habitual loser? Do you constantly find yourself losing things and desperately searching every nook and cranny of your surroundings? On several occasions, I've lost a contact in the process of putting it in my eye, scrambling nearly blindly on the ground to find the transparent little bugger. Perhaps you've lost your keys, or even the T.V. remote, on numerous occasions. Next time this happens, remember that things could be much worse. You could lose your bone mass.

Main Entry: os·te·o·po·ro·sis
Pronunciation: \ˌäs--ō-pə-ˈ-səs\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural os·te·o·po·ro·ses
: a condition that affects especially older women and is characterized by decrease in bone mass with decreased density and enlargement of bone spaces producing porosity and fragility

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects more than 200 million individuals across the globe. Many know that running, which is high-impact, can help increase bone-density as the bones respond to the great stress under which they are placed. However, one important study (in the British Journal of Medicine), performed on 52 female runners who ran a great range of weekly distances, found the women who ran the most to have the lowest bone density. While it is true that osteoporosis is often associated with older women, this research done on female distance runners has proven that this problem is not solely a condition of old age. Being one who truly puts the "long" in long-distance running, this certainly caught my attention.

What was the reason for this result, seemingly counter to the very physiological principles of increased work load and response? It was found that many of the women who had higher training volumes were not eating adequately to fuel the expected bone response to such mileage. Of course, a lower bone-density makes much more likely the possibility of stress fractures and/or osteoporosis, even when safely bumping up training at the 10% per week rule-of-thumb. Thus, maintaining a balanced diet that provides enough energy to sustain physical activity, with adequate calories to promote the building of muscle and bone, is of great importance.

Another possible reason for these findings is the fact that estrogen, a hormone that has a great impact on bone health, is typically lower in female athletes who participate in vigorous exercise like running.

Additionally, if you are guilty of commonly skipping other upper-body resistance exercise (like weight lifting), bone-density in these areas will be unaffected by concentrated efforts in the predominantly lower-body sport of running. Therefore, even though a runner may harbor doubts as to whether or not weight lifting and other such workouts will help cut a 5k time, said exercises would certainly be in the best interests of bone health.

Weight lifting isn't just for meat-heads, as everyone who wants to show some love to their bones should give it a try. You don't have to bench-press 100+ lbs. to achieve better bone density or become a better runner; rather, 2-3 sessions of moderate weight lifting per week will suffice.

And lastly, I will remind all my fellow runners to eat up and fuel well! It's not one's outer "bony" that matters - it's the inner "bony" that counts.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice post. It is so true that many female long distance runners suffer from osteoporosis without even knowing it. Thanks for bringing this into the forefront!