Many of us, when we find ourselves approaching fifty, decide to take stock of our lives. We take the time to look back on careers, friends, and family that we are proud of, and think about how we can make the most of the rest of our lives. Is it possible to slow down the onset of the symptoms of aging? My answer is an emphatic YES! I am healthier at age 58 than I was at 20 and you can be too!
Everyone knows that exercise helps maintain muscle strength and joint flexibility, but how does that translate into a fitness plan for those of us over 50?
Let’s talk about hips. Many people of my parent’s generation have had hip replacements and that’s definitely not the road I want to take! Not a fun operation and the recovery is lengthy. Through exercise, diet, and prudent supplementation, you can increase bone mass and minimize the risk or prevent osteoporosis. You can even reverse bone loss! I’ve seen women gain back bone loss through Pilates exercises.
First, let’s check your diet – Calcium, Vitamin D and Magnesium (Magnesium helps us absorb the calcium better) are important for healthy bones. Vitamin D is currently the most serious vitamin deficiency in North America. We spent the last several years taking our doctor’s advice by covering ourselves or wearing sunscreen to avoid skin cancer, and now we are seeing the effects of those actions with this vitamin D deficiency. The best way to avoid cancer and give your body the sun it needs to make vitamin D is to enjoy about 15 minutes of sun each day before you cover up or slather on the sunscreen. Science has recently found that the mighty vitamin D also protects us against rheumatoid arthritis. Your daily vitamins should include the RDA for Calcium, Vitamin D and Magnesium. But, supplements aren’t the “be all, and end all.” You should get as much of your vitamin intake as possible from food, and here are a few foods that contain vitamin D: oily fish like Alaskan salmon or sardines, fortified soy milk, orange juice and whole grain cereals. Calcium is plentiful in dairy, but did you know that sheep cheese has about twice as much Calcium as cow’s milk cheese, yet those who are lactose intolerant can usually digest sheep cheese better? Also, broccoli, dried figs, kale, collards and healthy nuts like almonds can provide your body with lots of Calcium. Almonds also contain Magnesium – double wammy! I knew I loved almonds for a reason! Vitamin K also helps activate proteins that are involved in the structuring of bone mass, low intake of vitamin K has been linked to low bone density. You can get your vitamin K in Swiss chard, kale, parsley, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, brussel sprouts, liver, soybean oil and wheat bran. Also, avoid eating too much protein – excessive protein can promote calcium loss from bones, along with too much caffeine and sodium, so do be careful of those as well.
Now let’s talk about exercise. Hips joints need to be open and flexible in order to keep that Osteoporosis welcome mat away. An open hip joint means keeping the muscles around your hip stretched and healthy so that they don’t tighten up around the joint. An easy exercise I do every day is to lie on my back on the floor with legs extended. If you have lower back issues, you can bend your left knee, keeping that foot flat on the floor. Slowly inhale your right knee toward your chest, then straighten it out and begin to rotate your leg slowly, in as large a circle as possible without rocking. The idea here is to use only your leg muscles. Feel the leg rotating around in the hip socket and keep your hip still. If you are rocking, that means you’re using your hip to move the leg and that’s not what you want in this exercise, so make smaller circles. Breathe deeply, counting to 5 on each inhale and 6 on your exhale. Do six circles in each direction, then, switch legs. Do this every day to improve flexibility in your hip.
Then, to keep the hip open, continue lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Cross your right ankle over the left thigh. If this is difficult, cross it over the left shin but stay off your knee. Raise your left leg bringing it closer to your chest and then reach through the space between your legs with your left arm, with your right arm around your legs, so that you can clasp your hands together. Breathe deeply while gently pulling your legs toward your chest. This is another easy stretch, but one that helps to keep your hips open and flexible. Continue for one to two minutes.
Together these simple exercises take very little time each day and don’t need to be done together so you can fit them in anywhere your schedule allows. Even during the commercial breaks of your favorite TV show!
Breathe deeply, keep your joints open and flexible, take your vitamins and eat healthy, and we’ll all keep our hips healthy well into our 90’s and beyond!
Best of Health,