By Ruth Heidrich, PhD, Health & Fitness Advisor for VegNews
(As excerpted from the Oct, 2003 VUNA VIEWS)

The admonitions surround us! Take more Calcium! Drink more milk!! Take Tums!

Physicians and dietitians have repeatedly increased the daily calcium intake recommended and yet the incidence of osteoporosis increases. The countries with the highest hip fracture rates have the highest dairy intake. Conversely, countries with the lowest hip fractures are non-dairy consuming.

There are many factors involved in bone density, but the major factors are excessive protein intake and lack of effective exercise. The typical carnivore’s diet provides excessive protein (amino acids) which then has to be neutralized by calcium, taken from the bones. Couple that with a sedentary lifestyle, and you have the perfect recipe for osteoporosis.

Bone is much like muscle in that it only gets as strong (dense) as the demands placed on it. Demands in the form of stress range in a continuum from zero gravity in outer space, to bed-rest, to sitting, standing, walking, running, and jumping.

Bone loss occurs during zero gravity, bed-rest and sitting. Walking maintains bone, but ONLY running and jumping have been shown to increase bone density. I use my own case history as evidence since my bone density has steadily increased from ages 49 to 64. The obvious solution is a vegan diet and effective exercise. Striking exercise is best, ie., running, because every time the foot strikes with the impact of one’s compounded weight, it involves repeated transfer of energy through the bones and joints and stimulates more bone challenge and growth.

Osteoporosis, however, is just one of the major life-threatening diseases that can be addressed through diet and exercise. Other examples include heart disease, cancer, stroke, iatrogenic disorders, diabetes, arthritis, depression, obesity, and premature aging – each of these conditions has a proven fitness component as well as a nutritional component.

Hearts grow stronger with regular aerobic exercise. It’s been shown that runners have increased heart stroke volume as well as greater elasticity in their arteries. Runners also have thicker knee cartilage and lower risk of arthritis.

Regular exercise boosts the immune system to the point where female runners have approximately a 35% lower risk of breast cancer. The increased elasticity of the arteries also lowers the risk of stroke. The fourth leading cause of death, iatrogenic (or medically-caused) diseases, can be prevented by running as fast as you can — away from hospitals! (Smile.)

Type 2 diabetes is occurring in younger populations, and is said to be due to, at least in part, to lack of exercise. The mechanism is thought to be that the blood sugar rises when muscles aren’t being called upon to use it. Exercise also increases the receptor’s sensitivity to insulin.

Arthritic joints “freeze” when not put through their entire range of motion on a daily basis; adhesions start forming in 24 hours.

Osteoporosis can be prevented since bones increase density when greater stress is put on them – not by pushing calcium.

A good run is almost always a better antidote for depression than Prozac – and no side effects.

Since obesity represents stored energy, an obvious solution is to exercise and is far more effective, in the long run (pun intended) than cutting calories.

It is obvious then that fitness plays a major role in the prevention and reversal of these major health conditions.