Move Your Bones
By: Derek Barber, June 27, 2023
An exercise list for bone health
“Structure determines function” is a cliché most of us have heard since as far back as we can remember. As such, we (the scientific community notwithstanding) often accept this as a truism even as it pertains to the human form. But when it comes to biology, this is a self-limiting belief at best and erroneous at worst. As living beings, structure and function are bi-directional, which is to say, our function determines our structure as well.
So what does this have to do with health? Well, everything, actually. Most material in nature has a coherent crystalline structure, or ought to, for optimal function. When it doesn’t, we see a lack of tensegrity aka tensional integrity and this creates dysfunction in a myriad of ways including compromised load bearing capacity and blocked energy. In humans, this can mean loss of muscle and bone mass and strength, tendon and ligament fragility, and insufficient fascial resilience. This phenomena predisposes us to injury, detriments in athleticism and chronic disease. Yes, to further highlight the degree to which physical and chemical health are one and the same, connective tissue doesn’t just move your body and protect your viscera, it plays integral roles in all areas of your biochemical health including neurological, cardiovascular, endocrinological, immunological and pulmonary function.
We would do well to mind our biomechanics as well as our biochemistry. Much attention in the past has been placed on the latter such as nutrition and supplements which provide signaling to our body via molecules. And epigenetically your physiology will even tell your body what to do with those materials. But in order for those constituent pieces to be put to proper use, there needs to exist a signal to bring the process full circle to its structural manifestation. That signal is a force or load. This is the most commonly overlooked element in biomedicine and is arguably as important as the rest. “Force is the language of cells” – Dr. Andreo Spina; which is to say, not just nutrients that you get from food, supplements or even other lifestyle variables such as light exposure.
So what is meant by force or load? In a word, movement – for well-being, we must move. Move often, variably and with enough intensity to provoke desirable adaptations in connective tissue tensegrity and metabolic health. I have a heuristic relevant here to cover the basic physics I call the five P’s – posture, position, pattern, plane and performance. We ought to cycle through many:
- Postures – flexion, extension, rotation
- Positions – standing, single leg, staggered, lying, kneeling, etc.
- Patterns – squat, bend, lunge, step, push, pull, etc.
- Planes – front to back, side to side, rotating/twisting
- Performances – strength, endurance, power
When the above are regular elements in a movement practice, the body will encounter forces and loads from all directions and all sources (compression, decompression/traction, shear and torsion). As it turns out, what’s good for bone health is good for all connective tissues and vice versa.
While it is appropriate for most folks beginning training to leverage gravity and body weight, with the specific goals of improving bone density and muscle mass, we will need to transition to progressively overloading with external weights (what we call relative vs absolute strength in exercise science) at or above hip height (what science calls the “axial skeleton”) to give the body the signaling it needs to lay down new tissue in the appropriate areas. This phase shift is critical to accelerate tissue density and mass particularly with regard to bones. It is generally advisable to not exceed your last training effort by 10% in any way for proper recovery and injury prevention.
Whether we’re considering the role of an individual molecule or that of an entire organ or tissue system, it can be said that the function of the human body is ultimately about movement (or in the case of dysfunction, the lack thereof). Our scientific understanding of this natural law has arrived at a place where it is abundantly clear that there are few interventions that can pay the kind of dividends to our health that moving our bodies can. Movement is life and life is movement so move your bones!
Derek Barber has been a strength coach, fitness trainer, nutritional therapist, holistic lifestyle practitioner and combatives instructor since 2008. He had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Deborah Gordon on her clinical trial to treat and reverse dementia with Dr. Dale Bredesen .
Derek is passionate about working with anyone interested in liberating their health. He is currently in private practice in-person in Florida and virtually. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (541) 973-6563.