Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Improving your bone strength and apps to help you get there

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Maintaining bone density is a challenge during the colder months, so I”m happy to see this winter come to an end at least according to the vernal equinox. Hopefully, mother nature will soon follow suit! Now that the snowbanks have receded to a point where curbs are visible, it’s safe again to get out and walk.  For many of us, just being outside is a welcome respite from the stir crazy winter weeks of bitter cold and relentless snow. The onset of spring is a good time to start varying your routine as you take advantage of increased options that come with warmer weather. Here are some ideas for resistance training which will help build bone strength.

To increase bone density,  adding resistance will make it much more effective. There are a few simple accessible ways to do this. Consider getting 2.5 pound adjustable weight cuffs that you can wrap around your wrists or ankles. Be sure to use them on a graded schedule- initially don’t wear them for more than 5-10 minutes at a time. It’s crucial to get your joints used to them, so you must gradually increase the amount of time you wear them.

Another option is adding more hills to your routine- this added resistance will increase your heart rate and make sure your regimen is challenging enough to keep adding new cells to your bones.. Again, don’t add 4 + major hills to a formerly flat route. Do it gradually so your joints, muscles, ligaments and soft tissue can adjust. This translates to a higher incline on the treadmill if you’re walking inside.  Be sure to increase slowly to avoid injury- no more than 1-5% a week. This applies if you’re exercising at least 3 times a week.

Interval walking will add intensity to your routine, which is essential for improving overall fitness as well as adding bone mass. Walk at your usual pace for 3 minutes, then walk very fast for one minute- repeating this throughout your walk. if you’d rather do it by landmark, quicken your walk every 5 blocks, or at designated points along the way. Do the same for jogging.  If you’re playing tennis or dancing, you will have natural intervals, when you run for the ball or do a faster part of the dance.

Remember that strange looking fad of speed walking where arms were pumped furiously and the person looked as though he’d plow into you if you got in his way? It has true benefits; whenever you use arms and legs together, you’ll increase the intensity. Also, when you do anything with arms lifted overhead, heart rate will increase.

Walk with a buddy, be it your dog, neighbor or friend. If you own a small or older dog, you may not get as many cardio benefits, but it will get you out there out of necessity. Ideally, walk with someone who is a fast walker and a good talker, and the time will fly by. I have many people who come to my classes and see me privately who walk consistently; if you’d like some names of people in the neighborhood, I’m happy to introduce you!

For more about how to shake up your walking routine, go to

If walking isn’t your thing, but you want to build bone strength- consider these options:

  • Running and jogging
  • Stair climbing
  • Step aerobics
  • Jumping rope and jumping jacks
  • Dancing (or other choreography) that involves hopping, jumping, stomping, or skipping
  • Tennis

Many people are very active during the day with errands, chores, gardening, grocery shopping, cleaning and overall house maintenance. If you’re curious about the number of steps you take during the day and total energy expenditure, there are many free, excellent apps for your smart phone that can give you useful information.

The New York Times recently featured 3 great fitness apps. The first one is Breeze, which is primarily a pedometer. The second one is MyFitnessPal, which is a comprehensive app that gives daily recording, goal setting, nutrition facts (including calorie counts), reminders, connections to other health apps and other people using MyFitnessPal. A similar app is Fitness Buddy, which has many of the same features.  The third is Lose It, which focuses not only on weight loss, but also has the ability to scan bar codes on packaged foods. You can enter your food preferences and configuration of protein, carb and fats. it will also take exercise into account when calculating caloric expenditure. For more details, check out this video, which explains these three apps.

These are by no means the only health apps out there- you can explore the possibilities by going to your app store and entering health and fitness. Everything from heart rate monitors to abdominal training apps will appear. Another app worth mentioning is Map my Run, Jog, Walk, Workout, etc., which will measure your workout in mileage, routes taken and calories burned. This is also a comprehensive app that will help you find running or walking routes while traveling, because it uses GPS for its measurements.

So, walk, jog, jump or be your usual busy self and see what you can rack up on your apps- use resistance to build stronger bones and you’ll be well on your way!

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