Exercises for Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a weakening and thinning of the bones that makes them fragile and more easily broken. About one woman in five aged 60-69 in the UK has osteoporosis, which causes 200,000 bone fractures each year. The most common cause of this condition is postmenopausal lack of oestrogen, a hormone that's vital for bone health.
Exercises for osteoporosis work in two ways.
Strengthening bones Doing the right type of exercise can help keep the amount of bone you lose to a minimum and boost your bone density, which makes your bones stronger and less liable to break.
Preventing falls Working on your bones is only half the story. You also need osteoporosis exercises to improve your balance and stability, so you're less likely to fall.
It's vital to work on preventing falls, because bone fractures in later life can have such serious consequences. Half of all spine fractures and 90% of broken hips are caused by falls, and once you've broken a bone you risk losing your mobility and independence - two things that can make such a difference to your quality of life as you get older.
As well as improving bone health and balance, you can use exercise to lose weight. Exercise is great for heart health and has numerous other health benefits, including helping with depression.
How Can Exercises for Osteoporosis Make A Difference?
The effect that osteoporosis exercise has on your bones depends on:
- Your age. Young bones respond best to exercise, (which is why you should encourage teenagers in your family to get active). It's always worth exercising though, no matter how old you are. Bones reach their peak strength when you're around 30, and after that you should use exercise to maintain condition and stall bone loss.
- Your stage of menopause. Osteoporosis is much more common post-menopause, when your body lacks oestrogen, which staves off bone loss.You're only likely to develop premenopausal osteoporosis if you have specific osteporosis risk factors.
- Your diet. Make sure you have a healthy menopause diet which includes enough calcium and Vitamin D, essential nutrients for preventing osteoporosis.
- The way you exercise. Weight bearing exercise is the key. You've got to put your bones under stress and make them work in order to strengthen them. But the jury's still out on exactly how much exercise you need, and how strenuous it needs to be, to be useful. Until more research is done into the specifics, in order to lower your risk of osteporosis and strengthen your bones, you should think in terms of at least 3-4 half-hour sessions a week of moderately vigorous or vigorous weight bearing or resistance exercise. You can also check out how to prevent osteoporosis by making other lifestyle changes.
What Are the Best Exercises for Osteoporosis?
Before you start any new exercise routine, please check our advice on exercise safety and make sure you use warm up exercises.
You should concentrate on three types of exercises for ostoporosis prevention, to build strong bones and to improve balance. Note, that if you are over 70, or know that you already have osteoporosis, you must take exceptional care with the exercises you choose to avoid damaging your delicate bones.
Weight bearing exercise
Weight bearing exercise, where legs and feet support your body weight, is essential. Squats are a good weight bearing exercise.
To manage osteoporosis, choose high-impact weight bearing exercises such as dancing, aerobics, keep-fit, badminton, tennis, jumping up and down on the spot, going up and down stairs (take care coming down and hold the handrail), running (for beginners), jogging and skipping.
Walking, although certainly better than not exercising at all, is not the best exercise for increasing and maintaining your bone mineral density, because it doesn't have a high enough impact on your bones. Swimming and cycling also, although great types of aerobic exercise, are not weight bearing.
Strength training exercisesStrength training exercises or resistance exercises, work on your muscles, and make your tendons pull on your bones and so develop their strength. There are lots of other benefits of strength training, and it's a vital part of any exercise programme during and after menopause.
You can do strength training exercises using machines at the gym, or you can use free weights, resistance bands and exercise balls as part of your home exercise equipment.
Use books or exercise DVDs for ideas and routines, or try a class to keep yourself motivated. Set yourself goals, and keep a record of how your stamina improves.
Exercises for balance
Developing flexibility, agility and balance can help you avoid the dangerous falls which so often lead to hip fractures in later life. Try dancing, aquafit, and exercises like leg lifts, wall press-ups and raising and lowering on your toes.
Yoga for osteoporosis: yoga is excellent for strengthening muscles and keeping you supple and well-balanced.
Exercises for osteoporosis - if you've been diagnosed with osteoporosis
For people over 70 or who already have osteoporois, the National Osteoporosis Society advises:
- avoid jogging or jumping which could cause a fracture
- don't do crunches or sit ups which could damage vertebrae
- don't touch your toes with straight legs because this strains the spine
- avoid turns and pivots in dance or exercise routines where you might fall.
Read more about the work of the National Osteoporosis Society.
Talk to your physician about the best kind of exercise. Even if strenuous high impact exercise is unsuitable, you should certainly keep active and work on building balance and co-ordination and strong muscles, to help prevent falls. Gentler exercises, like swimming, Tai Chi, walking, or golf could be useful.
How Much Osteoporosis Exercise Is Enough?
Research is inconclusive, but it looks as though you should do several vigorous sessions a week for the best results. In the UK, the NHS recommends at least 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week.
Whatever you choose to do - keep on doing it. Exercise is for life, and if you give up, you'll quickly lose the bone mass and stamina you've built up.
Keep fit and stay strong. Remember, it's always worthwhile starting - even frail people of 90+ have been shown to benefit from a gentle programme of exercises for ostoporosis.
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