I was delighted to be asked to write a series of articles for West Essex Life focusing on women's health and fitness. This month, I focus on the osteoporosis, and how exercise is vital in preventing and reducing its effects.
In last month’s Women Health and Fitness series I wrote about menopause and touched on osteoporosis. This month I take a deeper dive into osteoporosis, what it is and how to exercise for bone health.
It’s never too soon to work on bone strength with exercise and good nutrition. From childhood, we build up the strength in our bones, with bits of old bone being removed and replaced by new.
Throughout your childhood you are continually building bone, much like a pension for later days. For most people the maximum you can square away, your peak bone mass, is reached in your late twenties.
From your 30s to 40s, the bone that gets broken down is replaced. However, from your 50s onwards you start to lose bone density, losing in the region of 30-40% in your 70s. Loss of bone mass can lead to osteopenia, where your bone density is lower than the average adult, but not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones lose so much strength, it increases the likelihood that you’ll break a bone.
Osteoporosis is more prevalent in women than men. After menopause your bones lose strength at a faster rate due to the decrease in oestrogen (the female hormone that helps keep bones strong). Women also tend to have thinner bones than men, thereby increasing their risk of breaking.
That said, not everyone with osteoporosis goes on to break a bone. It’s not inevitable. That’s because your bones are living tissues that get stronger with use.
Eating for healthy bones means consuming plenty of foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D. A healthy balanced diet is good for us at all ages and continues to help us to stay strong after a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
Alongside a healthy diet, being physically active and exercising is extremely important. It can help you; strengthen your bones, keep active and mobile, improve your balance and increase self-esteem. If you have spinal fractures or other broken bones however, you may need to modify some exercises to be on the safe side.
Please consult your doctor before starting any new exercises.
Osteoporosis-safe exercise for bone strengthening and balance
Bones that work stay strong. For exercise to be most effective at keeping bones strong, you need to combine:
weight-bearing exercise with impact
muscle strengthening exercise
Muscle strengthening and balance exercises can also help to prevent falls and reduce the risk of fractures.
Weight Bearing Exercise
You are weight bearing when you are standing, with the weight of your whole body pulling down on your skeleton. Weight bearing exercise with impact involves being on your feet and adding an additional force or jolt through your skeleton. It can be as simple as walking or climbing stairs.
Here is a weight bearing exercise you can do at home:
For balance and lower leg strength
Stand with feet hip width apart and pointing forward
Slowly lift and lower heels
Start by holding onto a chair. For more of a challenge, use no assistance and/or turn your head to alternate sides as you rise.
You can alter how much force you lower your heels with to adjust the impact from low to moderate impact.
Repeat 10-20 times.
Muscle strengthening exercise
When your muscles pull on your bones it gives them work to do. Your bones respond by renewing themselves and maintaining or improving their strength.
As your muscles get stronger, they pull harder, meaning your bones are, in turn, more likely to become stronger.
You strengthen your muscles further by adding a load for the muscles to work against, such as:
a weight in your hand
using a resistance band
using your body weight
Here are some muscle strengthening exercises you can do at home:
Hip Hinge/ Squat
For body awareness, posture, back and hip strength
Stand with feet parallel, hip distance apart.
Hinge at hips, keeping back straight
Unhinge, returning upright with bent knees
Straighten knees to rise
Repeat 10 times
For posture, balance, wrist strength
Lower yourself to hands and knees
Lift abdominals, keeping back still. Slide one foot back and extend the knee
Return to starting position and perform other side
Repeat each side 3-5 times
For more of a challenge, reach opposite arm forward at same time.
As your muscles get stronger and you find the above exercises easier, you can increase the intensity by adding hand weights and gradually increasing the weight you lift. This is progressive resistance training and is a great type of muscle strengthening exercise for bone strength.
Remember to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regime. There is a wealth of activity you can do safely to keep you healthy and strong, so why not get started!