Osteoporosis is a significant concern for women as they age, affecting about eight million American women. You probably have heard of it, but you may be wondering, why is it a big deal, and how you can you prevent it? Can you reduce your risk of osteoporosis with exercise?
Osteoporosis And Exercise
If you are over age fifty, you have a fifty percent risk of breaking a bone, particularly a hip or spinal disc, due to osteoporosis. Women are at greater risk than men because they typically have smaller, thinner bones and because estrogen, which protects bones, declines after menopause. However, premenopausal women can also get osteoporosis due to genetics or an underlying medical condition. If you are in your 20’s, now is the time to engage in high-impact aerobics to maximize your bone mass. Look into plyometric exercises such as jumping squats and ice skaters.
While women stop building bone mass after age 30, take heart that it is never too late to reduce your risk of osteoporosis by developing healthy habits which protect your bones. Be encouraged by the following story:
My grandma was diagnosed with osteopenia a few years ago, but was miraculously, she was able to cure her condition. Osteopenia is midway between healthy bones and osteoporosis, when your bones are weaker than normal, but not so far gone that they break easily as with osteoporosis. My younger cousin was an infant at the time who had terrible reflux and needed to be held and walked after every single meal. After a while of this weight-bearing walking with my cousin, the doctors remarked that they had never seen anyone reverse osteopenia like my grandma.
You may not be able to cure your condition, but this story shows that any amount of weight-bearing exercise will help alleviate osteoporosis, especially when it is in the early stages.
What Is Osteoporosis?
The condition is characterized by the loss of calcium and other minerals from a person’s bones, leading to decreased bone density and increased risk of fractures that do not heal quickly. To determine whether you have osteoporosis, you will need to have your bone density in your hip, spine and other bones measured using an X-ray or ultrasound diagnostic. It is recommended for postmenopausal women and men age 50 and older to routinely get a bone density test.
Developing Healthy Habits
If you are diagnosed with the condition, it can be treated with dietary supplements, prescription medication and healthy lifestyle choices. Consume plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet and avoid smoking or drinking in excess. As daunting or counterintuitive as it might sound, exercise helps improve the condition because bone density is in part proportional to stresses placed on the bones. A sedentary lifestyle encourages the loss of bone mass while regular exercise can reduce the rate of bone loss.
Osteoporosis and Exercise: What Types Of Exercises Should You Do?
Exercises that you should prioritize include strength training exercises (particularly for the upper back) weight-bearing aerobic activities, flexibility exercises and stability and balance training.
Exercises that you will want to avoid are high-impact exercises, bending and twisting. Weakened bones are more susceptible to fractures from the rapid, jerky movements of high-impact exercises. In addition, bending forward and twisting your waist can increase your risk of compression fractures if your spine is affected by osteoporosis. Examples of activities to avoid if you have osteoporosis include jumping, jogging, sit-ups, touching your toes, golf, tennis, bowling and select yoga poses.
1. Resistance Training
Resistance training helps maintain bone density. Strength training is especially important for the upper back and spinal muscles to maintain posture, which will help you avoid “sloping” shoulders and spinal fractures. You can strength train using free weights such as dumbbells and barbells, elastic band resistance, body-weight resistance or weight-training machines. Upper back exercises to consider are the dumbbell bent-over row and seated row. Be careful not to twist your spine while performing exercises.
You may need a physical therapist to help you develop a strength-training routine that accommodates your tolerance level, particularly if you experience pain. Rather than focusing on adding weight, prioritize the proper form and technique for each exercise to get the most out of your workout and prevent injury. Try to strength train your lower body and arm muscles two to three times per week.
2. Weight-Bearing Aerobics
Weight-bearing aerobics not only improve heart and circulatory system health but also slow mineral loss in the bones of your legs, hips and lower spine. Examples of weight-bearing aerobic activities include walking, dancing, low-impact aerobics classes, elliptical training machines, stair climbing and gardening.
Swimming and cycling are not weight bearing aerobics. While they are therefore good for arthritis, do not benefit bones by slowing mineral loss. However, if you have severe osteoporosis or kyphosis (hunching of the upper back), swimming is an activity to consider.
If you are otherwise inactive, walking may also be a safe way to become acclimated to physical activity. Try to walk at a fast pace, for long durations or incorporate incline walking. Overall, aim to engage in 45-60 minutes of aerobic activity two to three times per week.
3. Flexibility, Stability And Balance Exercises
In addition to strength training and aerobics, it is important to include flexibility, stability and balance exercises in your routine to prevent falls. These exercises will ensure that your muscles and coordination remain strong to help you maintain your balance and avoid breaking a bone. Stretches, which work on your muscles by moving your joints through their full range of motion, should be performed gently and slowly after you are warmed up. Again, avoid flexing your spine or bending at the waist. Stability and balance exercises include tai chi or standing on one leg. Aim to perform balance exercises for a few minutes at least twice a week. (Make sure that there is something nearby to grab onto should you lose your balance).
Freefall Into A Fall-Free Life
Regular exercise is essential for any osteoporosis treatment or prevention program. Consult your doctor or a physiotherapist before beginning a new routine, and progress slowly to reduce your risk of fractures or other injury. Hopefully these tips have empowered you to take your health into your own hands and you will be free of falls for the rest of your days.
– Christina Como
You may like to read more health and fitness posts like How To Feel Fit and Fab at Forty and Beyond and 10 Tips for Reinventing Yourself During Healthy Aging Month.
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