Why does it sometimes seem as though the medical community purposely wants to confuse, confound and worry us with a continuous flow of reports that are often at odds?
Another medical study was published this week that is a solid example, and which is confusing everyone, especially those of us over 50 who worry about osteoporosis, a debilitating disease that affects millions of Americans every year, costing billions of dollars in healthcare.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), each year, more than two million broken bones occur in the U.S. due to osteoporosis. For women, this incidence is greater than that of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined. And, unless we take action, it is estimated that by 2020 more than 61 million Americans will suffer from osteoporosis or low bone mass.
The government advisory group behind the report that's making all the headlines this week --the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) -- questioned the benefits of vitamin D and calcium to prevent bone fractures when taken by healthy women. (To read the full report, click here.) However, many studies have shown that calcium is essential for bone growth and healthy maintenance, and vitamin D is necessary to absorb the calcium. (It should be noted that current research on vitamin D also suggests it may provide protection from high blood pressure, certain cancers, some autoimmune diseases and possibly even Alzheimer's.) And, of great importance to those who are taking osteoporosis medications, the meds don't work without proper amounts of calcium and vitamin D.
What's really confusing is that only last month a huge study was issued by the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) confirming that a combination of vitamin D3 and calcium every day not only offers tremendous health benefits, but is safe. The risk of hip fractures was reduced by a whopping 38 percent in women over 50, and, according to the study's authors, "Long-term use of calcium and vitamin D appears to confer a reduction that may be substantial in the risk of hip fracture among postmenopausal women."
Additionally, the WHI study reassured doctors and women worried about the potentially negative health impact vitamin D and calcium might have by showing that taken supplementally both are safe. In fact, the risk of kidney stones or urinary tract infections appear to be modest and not something average postmenopausal women need to be concerned about. To read the full report, click here.
We can probably get the calcium we need every day from the foods we eat, such as yogurt, cheese, almonds, tofu and green leafy vegetables (very much in keeping with the 'Mediterranean Diet'). However, getting enough vitamin D isn't as easy without supplementation. We would have to overeat or get too much sun, which has its own risks, to get the amount we need for good health.
I started taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D every day a few years ago after it was discovered that I had low bone density which could be, if not dealt with, a few train stops away from osteoporosis. Along with that I added 1,000 mg of calcium and increased my intake of healthy calcium-rich foods, especially kale (one of the best foods you can eat). Push-ups, running and other exercises to strengthen my bones stopped the progression, and actually reversed it. There's no question in my mind that this combination works, and it worries me that people will read the media reports of the USPSTF study and chuck their supplies of vitamin D and calcium tablets in the garbage.
What should we do?
I talked with the people at the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the leading organization dedicated to the prevention of osteoporosis, to get their response to the study and their current recommendations. Dr. Robert Recker, M.S., NOF President, said:
Everyone needs to get the recommended daily amount of calcium and vitamin D to enjoy good overall health and especially bone health. My concern is that the media's coverage of the USPTF recommendations is not balanced with the important benefits of these nutrients and may lead individuals to stop taking the needed amount of calcium or vitamin D without consulting with their healthcare provider.
The NOF strongly recommends the following:
Women under age 50 get 1,000 mg of calcium from all sources daily and that women age 50 and older get 1,200 mg. For men, NOF recommends 1,000 mg of calcium daily for those age 70 and younger and 1,200 mg for men age 71 and older. For women and men under age 50, NOF recommends 400-800 IU of vitamin D and 800-1,000 IU for women and men age 50 and older.
There you have it. Don't be confused. Be smart. Read the studies but discuss your own personal health with your own doctor. And for sure, if you haven't already, schedule a bone density test.
It's your body. Own it.
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Yoga offers a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/yoga-heart-health_b_900621.html" target="_hplink">myriad of wellness benefits:</a> flexibility, balance, centeredness, strength, mindfulness and others. Yoga is a great option for aging bodies, as it promotes working within your own comfort zone. Postures and sequences range from gentle and relaxing to more intensive for advanced yogis.
Another way to promote flexibility and overall health is incorporating some simple stretches into your daily routine, be it at home, at the gym or even outdoors. Stretching prevents injury, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/24/yoga-stretching-back-pain_n_1029014.html" target="_hplink">can relieve back pain</a> and boosts energy. Note: It's important to stretch properly to avoid injury. Check out some good <a href="http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/healthtool-basic-stretches" target="_hplink">examples of stretches here</a> and these <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/08/stretching-mistakes_n_892444.html#s304603&title=Not_Doing_It" target="_hplink">common stretching mistakes</a>.
Biking is a great low-impact, cardiovascular workout, not to mention it's a lot of fun. There are a few ways to incorporate biking into your routine. Joy rides in your free time are always a good option -- alone or with a group. You could consider joining a local bike group or riding to nearby destinations instead of taking the car. <a href="http://www.livestrong.com/article/456032-stationary-bikes-and-health-benefits/" target="_hplink">Stationary bikes</a> also have great health benefits. Already a cycler? Here's how to get <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/30/6-ways-to-get-more-benefi_n_868670.html#s285033&title=Get_in_tune" target="_hplink">more benefit from your bike ride</a>.
One of the most <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/walking/HQ01612" target="_hplink">beneficial exercises</a> is something humans have been doing for centuries: walking. Simple modifications to your routine, like parking further away and walking the extra distance or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can really add up to boost your overall health. For an even greater benefit, take brisk walks that get your heart rate up.
<a href="http://pilates.about.com/od/whatispilates/a/WhatIsPilates.htm" target="_hplink">Pilates</a> is another low-impact exercise that's ideal for aging bodies. It's similar to yoga but puts more emphasis on gaining control and balance of the body by strengthening the core muscles. Pilates can be done in a class or at home with a video or other guide. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paola-bassanese/keep-fit-with-classical-p_b_987756.html" target="_hplink">This piece</a> offers a great run-down of the activity, along with images of some classic pilates stretches and workouts.
Tennis is a classic sport, well-loved for being fun and <a href="http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/exercise/tennis.aspx" target="_hplink">great for you</a>. It's a strong aerobic workout and helps keep you agile, especially important as you get older. Tennis is also a very social activity -- great for the body, mind and spirit!
Swimming is easy on the body and is also one of the most comprehensive workouts, hitting <a href="http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/fitness-basics-swimming-is-for-everyone" target="_hplink">all the major muscle groups</a>: shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips and glutes. If you're getting serious about swimming, it's important to learn proper techniques, but even free-styling in the local pool or outdoors in the summer is a great way to exercise.
Dancing is one of those activities that doesn't feel like working out, but is an incredible <a href="http://www.livestrong.com/article/91589-fitness-benefits-dance/" target="_hplink">aerobic exercise</a>. It's a good option for those that want more physical activity but don't like the gym or in the winter when it's harder to get outdoors. There are a bunch of styles to choose from: ballroom dancing, contra dancing, salsa, ballet, tap, country and others.
As the body ages, running and jogging can take a toll on the joints, knees or back and potentially cause injury. An elliptical cross-training machine is an alternative to running, which still gets your heart rate up but at a <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/elliptical-machines/AN01620" target="_hplink">lower impact</a>.
You can take a simple walk to the next level by bringing weights along to build strength in your arms and boost the cardio benefits. Strength-building techniques like pushups, squats and lunges are easy to do at home or can be squeezed into buckets of free time throughout the day.
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