Lewis Paleias was once introduced to a doctor in Shanghai, China as a teacher who taught Tai Chi for bone density in the United States. With a jab to Paleias’ sternum, the doctor asked, “Don’t you people walk?”
Paleias explained the doctor’s admonishment this way: “In China, you see old people in the park walking, dancing and doing Tai Chi. In the United States, you see old people in the park…sitting.” The Chinese penchant for walking helps keep bones healthy. And bone health has to be a top priority for everyone, even as early as age 35 when the body stops building its bone stores and certainly as we progress through all the decades that follow.
To counteract all this sitting, Paleias, who leads Tai Chi classes for seniors at the Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mt. Sinai Hospital and various nursing homes in Manhattan, teaches the Horse Stance, a basic Tai Chi posture. Paleias explains that just holding this wide-legged position with the knees bent exerts strong, steady pressure on the head of the femur bone and pelvic bones, which strengthens the bones.
Here are two movements Paleias recommends to build strong bones.
Up Like Smoke, Down Like a Feather
- Stand against a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart, heels 9 inches away from the wall. Place your weight into the heel of the foot.
- Half-tuck your tailbone to elongate the low back so you can feel the back against the wall. Keep the spine erect.
- Hold your arms in front of you as though hugging a huge tree trunk.
- Move up and down slowly in this position without fully straightening the knee, maintaining an erect spine. Repeat 10 to 20 times or until you feel a little tired.
“Beat” Your Bones
This is the same technique martial artists use to prepare for more advanced techniques such as striking the “Iron Palm Bag,” a pillow-shaped pad filled with iron pellets, an exercise that eventually enables martial artists to break bricks with their bare hands. Paleias demonstrated this technique with several swift blows to the bag, but don’t try that at home—you could seriously injure your hand! Do the following gently to briskly, enough to be invigorating and pleasant, but not painful. Most people will do this right intuitively because it hurts to hit yourself too hard. Think of it as kind of a bouncy movement:
- Use an open palm, make a loose fist or roll a magazine if you have arthritis. Don’t use a newspaper, as it can create dust.
- Beginning at the fingers, tap, beat or slap your arm bones up to the shoulder, and then come back down. Do the underside of the arm as well. Repeat 3 to 4 times.
- Now beat or slap your leg bones from the pelvis down to the ankle, and then work your way up. Repeat 3 to 4 times.
- Finish by rubbing gently with the edge of the hand up the outside and down the inside of the arms; rub down the outside and up the inside of the legs.
This is also a very invigorating pick-me-up when you’re tired.