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Keeping your bones healthy with cottage cheese and exercise

Posted Jun 24 2009 12:38pm
  “How many ways can I eat cottage cheese? “ Laura, my neighbor asked me. “My doctor told me the results of my bone scan. I have lost 18% of my bone density in the last five years. She told me to increase my calcium and vitamin D over the next year to see if it would help my bones. If it doesn’t work, I am going to have to start on one of those medications that makes your bones stronger.”My neighbor was lucky. Her doctor had scheduled routine bone scans for her when she was relatively young and was able to pick up changes in her bone health before she developed osteoporosis.   My neighbor was 51, petite and with a fair complexion.   As she told me, she was a perfect candidate to develop this disease of thinning bones because she was slender, had small bones and avoided the sun because she was so fair.   “I was probably a perfect set-up to develop weak bones,” she said.” I hate milk, rarely eat yogurt or cottage cheese and don’t take calcium supplements. I burn when I sit in the sun so I always cover myself up when the sun is strong. I guess my body never had a chance to make vitamin D from the sun and my doctor says that vitamin D is needed to make new bones. And she said that since I just went through menopause my hormones are no longer helping my body make new bone tissue. Oh, did I mention that I hate to exercise? I have never had a weight problem so I figured I would never have to bother with a gym or regular work-outs. If I keep this up, my bones are going to be so weak, I better order my wheelchair now.”I assured her that her bones were not going to dissolve into something resembling overcooked pasta but that she really needed to follow her doctor’s recommendations immediately so her bones would regain their former strength.  Laura ‘s situation is unfortunately quite common. Menopause, a slight build, avoidance of calcium-rich and vitamin D rich foods, along with lack of weight-bearing exercise, may account for most of the bone loss seen among women middle-aged and older. Bone loss is also caused by heavy smoking and/or alcohol use, treatment with prednisone or other steroids for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis, severe weight loss, exposure to radiation and a genetic history of osteoporosis. If your mother and other female relatives has this disease, there is a good chance you will as well.   Given all these factors that promote bone loss, it should be no surprise that 1.5 million fractures per year are caused by decreased bone density. In fact, when Secretary of State Clinton fell and broke her elbow, my first thought was that she may be suffering from fragile bones.Building up bone density before developing osteoporosis is not difficult but it does require, as Laura found out, changing her food choices and starting to do exercise.   Her doctor told her to consume about 1.5 grams of calcium a day and 1000 IU (international units) of vitamin D.   Eating enough cottage cheese to do this was going to be difficult; even people who feel passionately about cottage cheese would have trouble consuming enough to meet their calcium intake. And if she relied on milk for her calcium, Laura would need to drink about four glasses of milk daily as she needed more than someone who still had healthy bones. Relying on these and other dairy products like yogurt was not realistic because Laura did not think she would consume them regularly enough to give her the calcium she needed.   Sardines, a good source of calcium, are not a personal favorite of most people (including my neighbor) and she told me that she rarely, if ever, eats enough of another calcium source, that is, dark green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, bok choy and spinach.   So for her as with many others, calcium supplements fortified with vitamin D were the best alternative. But her doctor told her to eat more dairy products anyway as they were the most natural source of this mineral.    Incorporating exercise into her life was going to be even harder than eating cottage cheese.  Laura and her husband had a successful store in a summer tourist town. Both worked seven days a week during the season and spent what little free time they had with their college-age children.   As Laura tried to figure out where she could find that 25 th hour in the day to exercise, she told me that she would simply have to make the time. “I am going to be no use to anyone if I fall and break something. “ She decided to work out with a trainer at a nearby gym so she could learn what exercises to do to increase her bone density. “And I will take long walks with the dog on the days I am not in the gym. Our store doesn’t open up l0 am and I can manage to exercise an hour early in the morning. My doctor told me that I should have been worrying about my bones when I was in my early thirties. Why didn’t anyone tell me then to eat more dairy and to go to the gym?”   “Would you have listened?” I asked her. “Oh probably not,” she said with a smile. “Fortunately it is not too late. And maybe I will try that cottage cheese with pineapple. I heard it was good.”
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