From pumpkin spice lattes to yellow leaves swirling on the east wind coming down the Columbia River Gorge, fall is in the air. You can practically feel it in your bones.
Speaking of bones, fall is also a great time to give some real thought to how you’re treating yours.
Osteoporosis is a disease through which you lose bone or don’t make enough bone. It becomes all-too common as we age. In fact the National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or have the low bone mass that can lead to the condition.
Unfortunately, fall is a time of year that can make it harder to fight risk factors for osteoporosis. For example, around Portland, fall usually means the arrival of rainy days that limit outdoor activities.
At a more northern latitude, Portlanders also suffer a decrease in daylight as the nights grow longer and sunsets come earlier every day. This, in turn, reduces how much vitamin D our bodies make during exposure to sunlight. And vitamin D helps us absorb the calcium that increases our bone mass.
So what can we web-footed Northwesterners do as the calendar marches us ever deeper into autumn?
Creating a Bone-Friendly Autumn
“A good place to start is to see your primary care doctor and have your vitamin D levels checked to see if you are a candidate for a bone density scan,” says Dr. Christopher Estes, an orthopedic surgeon with Adventist Health’s Aspire Orthopedic Institute.
High on the list of those good bone habits is weight-bearing exercise. That means getting up and moving so gravity can convince your bones to add more mass. Though your heart benefits from a certain amount of effort in your exercise, your bones just need you up and on your feet.
Some fun ways to add weight-bearing activity to your life include:
Outdoor work and play: Take a walk through Portland’s Japanese Garden to enjoy its fall colors. Or take a drive to Sauvie Island to pick fruit in the orchards, find the perfect pumpkin at the patch or wander a corn maze. Closer to home, fall yardwork like raking leaves, trimming hedges and clearing the garden are all activities that get you on your feet. And remember: Time in the sun helps your body make the vitamin D it needs so bone-building calcium is absorbed well.
Rainy day options: Although we have some truly beautiful fall days in Portland, it’s the season when the rain returns. Either don your slicker and boots for a walk outside, or add some fun indoor exercise to your repertoire. Try yoga for flexibility, balance and, yes, your bones. The Portland area is full of yoga studios, many gyms offer yoga classes, or you can try it at home by watching videos online. Walking on a treadmill or housecleaning are other easy weight-bearing exercises for rainy days.
Also take a few minutes to look around your home for hazards that might cause you to slip, trip or fall. You may need to add additional lighting to ensure your sidewalks, driveway and stairs are safe as the dark of night arrives earlier and earlier each day.
Fighting Osteoporosis in the Kitchen
Whether it’s rainy or sunny, you make a big difference for your bones by how you use your kitchen. Like every other aspect of our health, our bones are directly impacted by what we eat and drink.
Look online for guidance on how much calcium you need. Then fill your plate with foods rich in calcium, which builds your bones. Some ways to make your kitchen bone-friendly include:
Dark and leafy: Once again, we have to tip our hat to dark green, leafy vegetables. Kale, spinach and other leafy greens offer a host of health benefits, including the calcium that helps your bones stay strong. Farmer’s markets are still active around Portland, and leafy vegetables love the cooler weather of fall.
Moderation: “Moderation in all things,” we so often say. Remember this for the sake of your bones too. Too much caffeine, salt, sodas and alcohol may be hard on your bones. Instead, try milk, calcium-fortified plant-based milks (like rice or almond) and fortified orange juice.
Lifting the Weight of Fall
The good news is that eating right and adding weight-bearing exercise to your autumn schedule