Strengthen Your Bones

We know that it’s a natural process for women and men to lose some density from bone after the age of 35. Research has shown that through regular, weight bearing exercise it is possible to prevent some of the dramatic loss often occurring in women over 50, largely due to the fall in levels of the female hormone oestrogen at the time of the menopause or earlier if there has been a premature menopause brought about by hysterectomy. Genetic inheritance and other factors can also contribute to bone loss.

Weight bearing exercises or movements which use the body’s own weight help preserve or even build bone. The effect only occurs when the weight is repeatedly exerted, muscles attached to either end of the bone force it to twist and bend in response to the strike action and jarring movements. This stress-strengthening effect boosts the bone if sufficient calcium and vitamin D are available in the body.

Simple brisk walking, skipping or running use a hard, vibrating strike action, with the weight of the upper body borne by the spine, hips, legs and feet. A push up uses whole body weight to strengthen shoulders, arms and wrists. Recent studies have shown that pre-menopausal women who were encouraged to do a series of little jumps for a controlled period of time, on a regular basis, significantly increased the bone density of their ankles, knees and femoral head (hip).

Specific bones can be targeted still further by introducing additional weights. For example, exercising with dumb bells puts extra demand on the arms and wrists. So does carrying heavy bags of shopping (so long as you keep a straight back, pull in your tummy muscles and don’t stoop). Lifting household objects, like heavy cooking opts or the vacuum cleaner has a similar Bone Boosting effect. Twisting off a tight lid on a jar helps wrists and forearms so adapt everyday activities and objects and turn them into your own Bone Boosters!

In controlled studies when 90 young men were immobilised in bed from 5 – 36 weeks after examination they were found to be losing 5% of bone mineral content a month. At the conclusion of the studies both bone and muscle strength gradually returned with normal activity. Bed bound people lose less bone density if they get up every so often, and standing gives greater benefit than sitting. One piece of research showed that healthy young males alternating bed rest with “quiet standing” for 2-4 hours reversed the bone loss.

Are you right handed? No prizes for guessing which of your arms is stronger. When measured by bone scanners, upper arms of male baseball players aged between 8 and 19 showed a difference in strength according to the arm used. So did those of professional tennis players and the strike leg of professional footballers. When nearly 100 elderly women practised squeezing a tennis ball for 30 seconds a day, they increased forearm bone density by up to 5.3% in just 6 weeks. Grip strength improved even more dramatically – up to 19% increase. But it was truly a case of “you’ll lose it if you don’t use it” Measuring the bone 6 months after the exercise routine stopped showed a loss of the previous gains in bone density.

The floating weightlessness which astronauts experience in outer space may look like fun but has serious health consequences. The lack of stress on the bones in the gravity free environment causes bone loss up to the tune of 2% for every month of flying time. To make up for it, pre-space training programmes included Bone Booster exercises.

The Carnegie Enquiry (1992) into the state of health of the Third Age states “Appropriate exercise can delay or reverse physical decline and restore fitness among older people. Many people between 50 – 74 are too unfit to benefit fully from the recent gains in years of life expectancy. If they moved about, walked and climbed stairs for a total of 60 minutes a day, they would be fitter, healthier and enjoy a much more active and independent life style”. So do your bones a favour and make exercise a part of your daily routine. Walk, play tennis, go dancing, play golf, try cycling, rowing, sail boarding or weight training. Take up Yoga, skate or ski, or simply hop, skip and jump. Specific bones can be targeted still further by introducing additional weights.

To be effective exercise must be on a regular basis – some physical activity should be undertaken for an hour at least once a week, but preferably, 30 minutes at least 5 times a week. We need to keep active. All exercise is good is good for us – inactivity isn’t. Research has shown that through regular weight bearing exercise it is possible to prevent some of the dramatic bone loss experienced after the menopause. Simple brisk walking, skipping or jumping use a hard, vibrating strike action, with the weight of the upper body borne by the spine, hips, legs and feet. A push-up uses whole body weight to strengthen shoulder, arms and wrists.

Studies by Dr. Joan Bassey at Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham have shown that pre-menopausal women, who were encouraged to regularly do a series of little jumps over a controlled period of time, significantly increased the bone density of their ankles, knees and femoral head (hip). Arm exercises using small bottles of water as weights puts extra demand on the arms and wrists. Swimming is good for all round fitness and even people with physical difficulties and osteoporosis can exercise safely in water with their body weight supported by the water.
N.B. But unfortunately swimming doesn’t boost bones due to the lack of gravity.

Keep Young And Beautiful

Age is but a number. But how to keep young and beautiful – that’s the challenge! I’m a single independent woman, physically, mentally and sexually active and love the challenge modern life now offers mature women. Many people do age well and still have strong bodies because they’ve looked after their health. Health is like an insurance policy, the earlier you invest the more you’ll have to support you later on. Every day whether or not we like it or not we get that little bit older, ageing is inevitable. We can’t control quantity – but can improve quality!

Thanks to medical advances and improved living standards we are all living longer. There are now more 60 year olds than 16 year olds in the UK. A woman’s life expectancy is now predicted to be 79 years, so she can expect to enjoy some 30 years of postmenopausal life. That represents another third of her life so to benefit from this increase it’s essential to maintain good health.

We mustn’t disguise physical and mental problems as “just old age”. Ageing and inactivity is not the same thing. We increasingly use our brain instead of brawn to the detriment of our health but we are creating some serious medical problems at the same time. Cars, computers and labour saving devices free us from physical stress, but sitting around causes health problems such as heart disease, stiff joints, osteoporosis and obesity.

We all need to keep more active. Take the opportunity anytime, anywhere to walk the dog, use the stairs instead of lifts, and do activities you personally like such as gardening, dancing or cycling. Being active actually boosts energy levels and during exertion the body releases chemicals called endorphins giving us the “feel good” factor. Exercise improves circulation and heart and lung efficiency, makes complexions glow and keeps minds alert. Being inactive is a major risk factor as we age.

Most of us know that looking good makes we feel better. Those who lead busy, interesting lives and take a pride in their appearance seem to have a zest for life and positively glow with good health. It’s not trivial to care about looks.
Any doctor knows that when some patients are poorly they stop bothering about how they look. Conversely it’s a sure sign of recovery when the patient takes a renewed interest in their appearance.

A well cared for skin can make a woman look 10 years younger, with moisturising being an essential as the years go by! What we eat makes a big difference too. Youthful skin depends more on how well it’s been looked after and on what skin type you are, than actual chronological age. The most damaging factor is over exposure to the sun, which makes skin leathery in appearance and texture, and causes age spots, coarse wrinkles and small, broken blood vessels. Sun seriously affects the skin cells causing cell damage which poses health threats including skin cancers. This type of skin ageing can be prevented.

Women who are in their “fabulous forty’s, feisty fifty’s or super sixty’s” are fortunate to be growing older at this stimulating, although uncertain time in history. Thanks to medical advances there is less threat of death or serious disability from insidious diseases such as smallpox, polio and some cancers. Gone too are the social and economic restrictions of past generations. Education, careers, opportunities and travel are available to all women, irrespective of gender, colour, class or creed. Being in good health enables people to pursue ambitions, hopes and dreams and adds a quality and buzz to everyday life. Anatomical and physical changes are a natural part of the ageing process but simple adaptations to existing lifestyles, particularly diet and exercise can help maintain wellbeing. Health is far too important to be left to chance and enables life to be lived to the full. Small changes really do make a big difference!

Menopause And Hrt

For most women the menopause starts between the ages of 45 and 55 when the ovaries begin to produce less oestrogen.   For some women this hormonal imbalance can result in symptoms such as hot flushes, irritability, anxiety and poor concentration.  The menopause is a normal stage in a woman’s life and it isn’t an illness, having said that we all know for a fact and through personal experience, that some women do have very real problems and need help, whilst others get through the changes easily.

Nevertheless many women who complain to their doctors of distressing menopausal symptoms don’t, or won’t take Hormone Replacement Therapy, even though they have been told by their doctor it could help them alleviate their symptoms.   They feel it will do them more harm than good, since reports indicate that there is a slight risk of thrombosis, asthma, endometrial cancer, and psychological problems.   Most worrying is the slighter greater risk of developing breast cancer (2.3% per year) in women on HRT.

Women, who have had an early menopause (a surgical menopause) as of the result of a hysterectomy, are often offered HRT, especially if their ovaries have been removed.  HRT works by replacing the oestrogen no longer produced by the ovaries.   HRT is also recommended for women who have a family history of osteoporosis.

It’s important to discuss fully the health implication of taking HRT long term and it is understandable that many women are suspicious of the claims and confused about the side effects of taking HRT.  Women need to be confident of the ways in which they manage their menopause and post menopause.   It is now well known that HRT does lower the risk of osteoporosis and it relieves hot flushes and night sweats, encouraging a better night’s sleep.

HRT comes in several forms.   The original type contained just oestrogen, but it was thought to have increased the risk of cancer in the lining of the womb.   Nowadays it is only prescribed for women who have had a hysterectomy, no longer have a womb, and who therefore are not at risk.

Other forms of HRT use both the oestrogen and progesterone as replacement hormones.  During the first half of the monthly cycle the patient takes just the oestrogen, but the progesterone is added during the second half of the cycle, and causes a monthly bleed, not unlike a period.

Another form of HRT contains a combination of oestrogen and progesterone.   This type is usually given to women who have ceased to have a natural period.   There is still protection against cancer of the womb lining, but no inconvenient monthly bleeding.

Your doctor must prescribe HRT, but you may prefer to consider the natural approach as an alternative.   Plant forms of oestrogens and progesterones can be found in foodstuffs such as the Mexican yam, tofu (Soya bean curd), French beans, green lentils, miso (fermented Soya paste) and rye bread.   The amounts of hormone balancing properties will of course vary a great deal, and may not be constant enough to treat some women, especially those who have had their ovaries removed.   Other women will find these natural alternatives helpful and more acceptable.   Bananas, figs, dates, citrus fruits, sprouted seeds and grains, citrus fruits, seaweed, fennel and garlic are all foods containing hormone balancing properties which are claimed to help alleviate menopausal problems. Medicinal herbs such as hops and sage are rich sources of plant-oestrogens and from recent tests red Clover is proving beneficial to some women who cannot or will not take HRT.

Speaking from personal experience I believe taking regular exercise is also important during this time.   Not only will the weight bearing exercises boost and build stronger bones, but aerobic exercise will strengthen our hearts and lungs.   Most moderate exercise will help improve energy levels, overcome depression and anxiety, and relax our bodies enabling us to sleep more soundly.

However, some gynaecologists and doctors with menopausal patients are concerned that although health supplements and homeopathic medicine can be useful, they are not alternatives to HRT.   Many point out that women lose their oestrogen supply after hysterectomy and removal of ovaries, and need immediate HRT and claim that taking alternatives puts their menopausal patients at risk.  The point they make is that nothing else relieves menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis at the same time.

Recent results of long term trials of HRT have further confused women contemplating taking the drug. As responsible mature women we must make our own individual and informed choice, and take whichever course of action we consider suitable for our well being.


The National Osteoporosis Society

Heart Disease

Almost twice as many women in the UK die from a heart attack or circulatory disease as they do from cancer. 5 times as many die from Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) as they do from breast cancer. CHD kills 1 in 5 women (approx. 70,000 in 1995). Women tend to assume that CHD is a man’s disease and that it is men who are the victims of the disease but that’s not the case. Older women as opposed to young women are most at risk of a heart attack and sudden death. Sadly fewer women than men survive a heart attack but if they do the attack may well result in years of disability and the quality of their lives will be seriously affected.

It is essential that we all know and heed the warning signs if we are to prevent a heart attack. We shouldn’t ignore central chest pains, which may simply be indigestion, but could be something far more serious. We need to take action and see the GP if there is a tight feeling in the chest or breathlessness when we try to hurry, or when we are carrying heavy shopping. Neither should we ignore any twinges we might feel going down the arm and up into our necks since they could indicate that something is seriously wrong. Women who suffer from depression appear to be more susceptible to heart disease, but their symptoms of erratic heart beat and panic disorders can often be wrongly diagnosed as distressing emotional problems surrounding the depression, instead of the warning signs of possible coronary heart disease.

We would be foolish to not take notice of these symptoms and if we have chest pains we should go to our GP and ask him to investigate them. However, if the pain is crushing an ambulance should be called immediately because it could be a heart attack, and fast medical attention is vital. What can we do to prevent CHD, a heart attack or worse still, an early sudden death? 17% of premature deaths in women are from coronary heart disease. It does mean changes in lifestyle, but no woman wants to cause her family and loved ones the distress of an early death. Neither would she want to impose on them the responsibility of looking after her if she was to survive the attack and became disabled, and especially so if she lived on her own.

The heart is a muscle which pumps oxygen rich blood around our bodies through a system of veins and arteries. The heart requires oxygen and nutrients itself to function efficiently. CHD can affect and interfere with the flow of blood through the coronary arteries and cause the heart to pump less effectively. Coronary heart disease affects the arteries in two ways. In the first place the artery walls can get “furred up” restricting the space inside the artery and making it more difficult for the blood to flow through. When this occurs it is known as atheroma and it affect some people more than others. Secondly, if a blood clot forms in the arteries, which supply the heart muscles with oxygen and blood, it can cause a blockage of the artery and this condition is called thrombosis. Atheroma or thrombosis can cause angina (pains in the chest, neck and arms), or a heart attack, or even sudden death. Angina is the most common form of coronary heart disease and takes the form of a pain in the chest brought about by exercise or emotion. Heart and circulatory diseases are the UK’s biggest killers and the death rates from CHD in the UK are amongst the highest in the world. These are figures not to be proud of, so we should all be aware of the risk factors surrounding coronary heart disease.

26% of British women still smoke despite the warnings of risks to their health. 11% of deaths from coronary heart disease in women are due to smoking. Women who smoke but also take the contraceptive pill increase their risk of coronary heart disease. If a woman has high blood pressure, and especially when the blood pressure is continually raised, there can be a major risk of CHD or stroke. A major risk factor is diabetes, and women with it are three times more at risk, than those who are not diabetic. If they smoke or have high blood pressure the risk increases still further. A further risk factor is high blood pressure, which can be genetically inherited, or it can develop if a person is overweight, eating large amounts of salt or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Getting stressed out, or taking certain drugs, or having kidney disease or narrow arteries are further risk factors.

Women whose father or mother died of a heart attack before the age of 60 are at risk and 5 times more likely to have fatal heart attack themselves. Being overweight is linked to higher blood cholesterol, raised blood pressure and diabetes and it could cause a person to become a heart attack victim. One in three women have high blood pressure but are not receiving treatment. A person with high blood pressure is twice at risk of a stroke, so it’s wise to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Until the time of the menopause women do not have the same risk of coronary heart disease as men, because of the female hormone oestrogen which keeps blood vessels healthy and prevents diabetes. After the menopause research indicates that women taking hormone replacement therapy(HRT) halve the risk of death or disability from CHD and as a bonus the HRT helps to protect their bones and the risk of the thinning bones disease, osteoporosis. We need cholesterol in our bodies to make healthy cells and hormones and the cholesterol is carried around our bodies in the bloodstream. But if we have too much cholesterol it starts to furr up our arteries. We can lower our cholesterol levels by watching our fat intake in our diet. The average diet in the UK is most unhealthy and we eat too much fat and not enough fruit and vegetables We need to eat polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (vegetable oils such as sunflower, rape seed and olive oil etc) instead of saturated fat (animal fats such as milk, butter, cheese, fatty meat, chicken skin etc.

To help yourself avoid coronary heart disease ensure you have an adequate intake of vitamins from your diet or consider vitamin supplements. Recent research suggests vitamins A C and E ( termed the ACE vitamins) in particular may afford some protection from heart disease. Low dosages of aspirin are known to reduce the risk of CHD but aspirin should only be taken on a regular basis on the advice of your GP. Drinking 1 or 2 units of alcohol a day is also associated with lowering the risk of death from heart disease amongst women, but more than two units a day raises blood pressure and can trigger abnormal heart rhythms and heavy drinking can cause actual heart failure. Exercise is a major factor in lowering blood pressure and the risk of coronary heart disease so aim to do 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Stress can contribute to the onset of a heart attack and heart disease so try to relax and deal with your pent up emotions for your heart’s sake.

• Consult your doctor if you have tightness or pain in your chest or pains in your arms and neck
• Call an ambulance if the pain is crushing
• Watch your weight and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
• Reduce your intake of fatty foods and eat less saturated fats, watch your cholesterol levels
• Eat more fish, and poultry minus skin Tell your doctor is you experience depression, panic or erratic heartbeat
• Stop smoking
• Take more exercise aim for 30 minutes activity each day
• Cut out excess salt from your diet
• Discuss with your GP the risk of CHD if you are on the contraceptive pill
• Consider taking vitamin supplements (ACE vitamins)
• Don’t drink excessively
• Discuss taking a low dosage of aspirin with your GP if you already suffer from CHD
• Consider hormone replacement therapy to protect you from CHD
• Learn to relax

British Heart Foundation
British Cardiac Patients Association

Healthy Travelling

Travelling can be an exciting holiday adventure or a working necessity of life. Both often involve miles of exhausting journeys, hours away from loved ones and erratic meal times. Add to this the stress and strain of keeping to a demanding schedule and the result can be a pretty hectic and unhealthy lifestyle. Be aware of the hazards, they could affect your work, cost you your health, or worst still your family. It’s good to feel fit full of energy and able to cope efficiently with problems, but a healthy lifestyle is a combination of sensible eating and moderate regular exercise.

Exercising makes the body more efficient and helps retain maximum mobility which is particularly important as we age. However we are all made differently and heredity and individual metabolic rates determine our individual natural body shape. Mentally we all have differing aims and limitations too. Top flight sports persons strive to attain maximum strength and stamina, whilst the majority of us are satisfied with moderate strength and reasonable suppleness and flexibility.

However the majority of us need to be more active and should make exercise part of our regular daily routine. But it can be difficult to motivate and make the effort when you’re on the move, although from personal experience, despite a hectic schedule I know it’s a habit worth getting into.

During the 80’s we in the UK were exposed to the fitness boom, and I’m proud to have been there with my daily appearance as the Green Goddess on BBC TV’s Breakfast Time. With increased knowledge of a healthy lifestyle have come the facilities to put theory into practice and health clubs, gyms, sports and leisure centres everywhere have classes and facilities to encourage us all to get fit at any required level. Whilst travelling there is no excuse not to be active, and it pays to find out what is available at your destination and to take advantage of the facilities.

Help yourself by walking up stairs in the Hotel instead of using the lift and make sure you walk briskly to work or places of interest whenever possible. Take in the local colour around the vicinity of your Hotel with a brisk 20 minute brisk walk in the fresh air,it will benefit you both physically and mentally. If you are feeling in need of more energetic exercise jog around the local park, or failing that pack a skipping rope into your luggage to get you moving. 10 minutes of skipping is excellent aerobic exercise to benefit your heart and lungs, improve your circulation, get rid of pent up frustrations and keep you mobile.

Most towns have a public swimming bath so take advantage of exercising and relaxing in the pool. Swimming is the finest, safest form of exercise for everyone including those with physical disabilities, because your body weight is supported by the water. Many local sports centres have facilities for squash, tennis, badminton and gyms full of exercise equipment and trained staff to advise you. Exercise groups, yoga, Pilates, aerobic and step classes are available in most towns and it’s a great way of meeting people. Ask your Hotel receptionist for local information and whenever possible make your own hotel reservation in a hotel which has its own integral swimming pool and mini-gym.

If you are serious about regular exercise look out for and book accommodation near a public Sports Centre, find out about the activities offered by calling the local council or use Yellow Pages. For most sporting activities it’s advisable to book in advance to save disappointment. For more detailed information contact the CCPR: (Central Council of Physical Recreation)

Travelling can be a lonely business but through the universal medium of sport you have the chance of getting to know real people and perhaps of making lifelong friends. If you’re still not convinced, a night at the local disco dancing the hours away can also be a very pleasant form of exercise. Whatever motivates you to get off your bottom and be active has to be good!

But a word of warning: If you have pains in your arms or chest, suffer from severe breathlessness, heart problems or have high blood pressure seek medical advice before rushing off. Know your limitations, don’t set your goals too high, and don’t work out for at least an hour after a heavy meal. Over-indulgence in anything can have adverse effects, so listen to your body, too much exercise too soon can result in injury

There has been a huge increase in world travel and more people are on the move. But with long distance air travel comes the potential health risk of a deep vein thrombosis, commonly known as DVT. DVT affects thousands of air travellers each year often occuring in conjunction with an established illness or condition where the natural tendency of the blood to clot is increased. It can be caused by long periods of immobility, particularly on long haul flights where sitting in cramped conditions for long periods creates blood flow problems. An inefficient, sluggish blood flow increases the risk of a thrombosis

Minor symptom of DVT include fluid collecting in the lower limbs causing swollen legs and ankles, but more serious symptom include
• Rapid heartbeat
• Palpitations
• Breathlessness or coughing

To prevent DVT commonly known as “economy class syndrome” walk up and down the aisles of the aircraft whenever possible during a long flight. Wear loose comfortable clothing and avoid crossing your legs, especially when sleeping and don’t drink excess alcohol which causes your body to become dehydrated. Dehydration can cause the blood to thicken, and on a long journey the air inside the plane’s cabin can become very dry. Drink plenty of water instead.

Exercise and walking around the aircraft will improve circulation by encouraging the action of the leg muscles, so do simple leg and feet exercises throughout the duration of the flight. The calf muscle at the back of the lower leg pumps and encourages the return of blood from your legs and feet back to the heart. For some people taking an aspirin before a long flight helps thin the blood and discourages the blood from clotting. (Aspirin is not advisable for anyone who has an established medical condition such as a stomach ulcer).

If you are concerned about the risk of DVT talk to your GP before your journey, particularly if you have had phlebitis or a previous thrombosis).
Plan your journey well and you can return home feeling refreshed not hampered or exhausted from your travels!