Exercise to prevent osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a major cause of disability in New Zealand, affecting more than half of women and nearly a third of men over the age of 60. Bones become increasingly fragile and it is often called the ‘silent disease’ as it can progress painlessly until it is quite advanced.
But exercise is a great way to help keep it at bay, and research has found that using your muscles helps to protect your bones. According to researchers at the USA’s Mayo Clinic, even people who exercise regularly throughout life may still experience some loss of bone density. However, it is much less likely their bones will become brittle enough to break if they slip and fall.
They have also discovered that it’s not too late to start exercising after menopause, when the rate of bone loss intensifies, as you will still increase muscle strength, improve balance and help avoid falls – and it may keep your bones from getting weaker.
While some aerobic exercises, like swimming and cycling, are great for your health, unfortunately they aren’t that beneficial for building bone density. The activities that really help build and strengthen bone are the weight-bearing kind, which force you to put weight, and therefore stress, on your muscles and bones. They are activities that require your muscles to work against gravity.
- stair climbing
- weight lifting
Exercising with osteoporosis
If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, or suspect you may be displaying symptoms, consult your doctor before starting any exercise programme. You may need a bone density test and a fitness assessment first.
Building physical activity into your life may: relieve pain, make everyday tasks easier to carry out, maintain or improve your posture. The main thing is to find an activity that you enjoy, which works for you given the progress of your medical condition.
Three types of activities are often recommended for people with osteoporosis: strength training exercises — especially those for the back — weight-bearing aerobic activities and flexibility exercises, but you’ll need to check which of these are appropriate for you.
- Strength training includes the use of free weights, weight machines, resistance bands or water exercises to strengthen the muscles and bones in your arms and upper spine. Strength training can also work directly on your bones to slow mineral loss.
- Weight-bearing aerobic activities involve doing aerobic exercise on your feet, with your bones supporting your weight. Examples include walking, dancing, low-impact aerobics and gardening. These types of exercise work directly on the bones in your legs, hips and lower spine to slow mineral loss.
- Flexibility exercises can help increase the mobility of your joints, another key component of overall fitness. Being able to bend, extend and rotate your joints helps you prevent muscle injury. Increased flexibility can also help improve your posture.