2012 is just around the corner. Although I don’t make resolutions per se, I do use the anticipation of a new calendar to plan out my training and race schedules and to revise repeat plans based on the successes (and failures) of last year. I also can’t help but reflect on the numbers on the scale and fantasize about the rewards of being two pounds lighter, decreasing my body fat by 1%, shaving 5 seconds off my marathon time, completing the Mid-Week Mountain Bike Race Series, and waiting for the boys at the ridge line on a dawn patrol.
As I plan out my 2012 calendar, I also page through the recent edition of my favorite journal, The Physician and Sports Medicine, which has several articles on osteoarthritis (OA). Several research studies note a fact I hate to dwell on: women athletes (especially those with a history of knee injuries) have a higher risk of developing OA than men and their sedentary counterparts. The usual excuses are noted in each article: women have a greater angle of the femur (thigh bone) from the hip to knee due to a wide pelvis; women are small and therefore have small knees unable to absorb as much force as larger ones; and women have lower bone mineral density (BMD), which is currently believed to be the greatest indicator of OA likelihood.
I cannot change my womanly curves, nor can I double the size of my knees, but I can address my BMD. Glazed over and tip-toed around in literature regarding women athletes is a dirty word: anorexia. In the culture of athletes, being too thin is an obsession praised as a mark of perfect training, discipline and sacrifice for sport. But at what cost? Eating disorders are common among women athletes (and becoming more common in men). A malnourished woman will often experience amenorrhea (a pause in her fertility cycle) as the body’s way of conserving nutrients. This pause changes hormone secretion, including a decrease in estrogen levels. This decrease is a major factor in bone density loss; a low BMD means higher risk of OA.
As an aging woman athlete with a history of knee injuries, I am going to be proactive in reducing my risk of OA in my knees; I am going to accept those two extra pounds on my goal weight. I am going to do this by not changing my eating plan (crafted by a wise nutritionist), but I am going to occasionally splurge and eat that second cookie. And, instead of feeling guilty, I’m going to tap my crumb coated fingers to my knees and say it is for them. Here’s to a few more cookies in 2012 and healthy knees that will keep me skiing well into my 80’s!