Walk Your Way Around This Disease

A silent disease is stalking you. It waits, unbidden, unseen. You may think I’m talking about high blood pressure. Certainly a good answer, but I’m talking today about weak bones, the precursor to osteoporosis. For women over 50, 1 out of 2 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture before they die; for men it’s one in 5.

We have about 10 million Americans who we know have osteoporosis, diagnosed. But there’s 3-4 times as many people who have lost some bone mass, who have weak bones and are at risk for the disease. And if you are over 65 and you have a hip bone fracture, chances are 1 in 5 that you’ll die within a year. What we need is a way to strengthen bones.

So what’s to be done, my Aunt May asks. She’s 80 and doesn’t go out all that much and her sister died of a hip fracture and subsequent hospitalization. The answer, unsurprisingly, is walking. Brisk walking, heck, any walking, will help strengthen your bones. That’s what I tell her. Jogging works, jumping rope works (Aunt May gives me a look when I suggest this to her. Proper ladies just don’t jump rope.) But a recent study done by the Indiana School of Medicine suggests that brisk walking is the best option of all.

Why does Aunt May love this idea? First, it’s cheap. She already has a pair of walking shoes. She calls them sneakers. So there’s no upfront costs to start walking. Second, she knows how to do it so there’s no training involved, no Tai Chi moves to learn, no yoga positions to master. Her main problem with it is that she has to get up from a very comfortable wingback chair and go outside and do it. But she’s finally agreed to walk to the end of the block and back.

I tell her she’ll feel better. The fresh air will do her good. Her neighborhood is safe. (Some aren’t and then to walk, a person needs to find a mall or a large store and walk the aisles.) She’ll meet her neighbors — not a convincing argument for my reclusive aunt. I try to convince her to visualize her bones getting denser and stronger. Finally I suggest we walk together a couple mornings a week. That gets her. I’m her favorite nephew, she says. Note: I’m her only nephew. She loves that joke.) Problem is I live 600 miles away, but I suggest that I call her in the morning of a walk day and we’ll head out at the same time and talk after we’ve finished our respective walks. She’s good with that. We’ll see how it goes. Good for us both to get out there for a walk every day. Strengthen those bones.

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