I recently spoke with Marty Wingate, a garden writer and speaker, and Barbara Dehn, a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health, about just how good gardening is for bone health. Marty and Barbara will be leading a seminar on “Gardening for Good Health” tomorrow at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, but they were nice enough to give me a brief preview.
Essential Elements for Good Bone Health
With 10 million people in the
having osteoporosis, a disease causing bones to become brittle and more susceptible to breaks, and another 34 million estimated to be at increased risk for getting it, it’s important to make sure we're getting the three essential elements for good bone health: 1) calcium, 2) vitamin D, and 3) weight-bearing exercise. U.S.
What I didn't know until speaking to Barbara and Marty is that gardening is a perfect fit for the kind of exercise our bones need. A recent study showed that women who garden received greater benefits to their bone health than those taking an aerobics or dance class. Barbara advises that exercising for bone health doesn’t have to be intense--you don’t even need to break a sweat. Just about everything we do in the garden--kneeling to pull weeds, pushing a lawn mower, or even just walking around to see what’s blooming--is the kind of weight-bearing exercise that builds better bones.
And while the most important thing is that you garden, rather than what you garden, Barbara suggests that it doesn’t hurt to plant some calcium-rich veggies like broccoli or bok choy while you’re at it.
Vitamin D for Healthy Bones
But one of the most crucial yet often overlooked factors for strong bones is getting the recommended amount of Vitamin D (at least 800-1000 international units a day), which helps your body absorb calcium. As Americans have increased their use of sunscreen and decreased the amount of time they spend outside overall, our intake of Vitamin D from sunshine has diminished. That leaves our bones more vulnerable, and while it may decrease our risk of skin cancer, there are concerns that it may increase the risk of certain other cancers. Instead, Barbara suggests going outside with arms and legs uncovered and unprotected for the first 15 minutes, and then applying sunscreen for the remainder of the time outdoors. (Darker-skinned women may need more than 15 minutes.)
While bone loss is a greater concern for women, whose bones lose density as women lose estrogen, men are not immune to the problem. Although men naturally experience less significant bone loss, steroids and other medications they may be taking can decrease bone density for them as well.