Exercise for Strong Bones
Osteoporosis. For those of you who have heard of this disease, the word seems to bring with it a sense of foreboding. Osteoporosis is a condition that occurs when your body disposes of old bone faster than it creates new bone, resulting in a weak, brittle skeleton. Men and women and people of all ages and races are affected by this disease, but it is most common in older, postmenopausal women. Individuals with osteoporosis (or low bone mass – a precursor to osteoporosis) have an increased risk of fracture, especially in their hips, wrists, and spine. Weakened bone can also lead to back pain, stooped posture, and loss of height over time.
Osteoporosis is a very serious problem, affecting over 10 million people living in the US alone, with many more people affected by low bone mass. So how can this serious health problem be avoided? Preventing osteoporosis from ever occurring is best, as it is always easier to prevent a problem than to fix it later, but you can also improve your health after a diagnosis of osteoporosis. One of the best ways to prevent and treatosteoporosis and low bone mass is to exercise.
While it is easiest to build strong bones while we are young and our skeletons are still developing, it is still possible to strengthen bone later in life. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends weight-bearing aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercises to build and maintain strong bones at any age.
Weight-bearing aerobic exercise is anything that requires your body to work against the force of gravity (swimming and cycling are not weight-bearing activities). Jogging, dancing, stair climbing, tennis, basketball, and jumping rope are all great examples of high-impact weight-bearing exercises ideal for building bone mass.
Many individuals cannot engage in high-impact activities for one reason or another (individuals who have already developed osteoporosis should avoid high-impact activities unless prescribed by a doctor or physical therapist) and will have to engage in lower impact activities such as walking and lower-intensity aerobics or dancing.
Try to build up to at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week of weight-bearing aerobic activities. These can be performed in one continuous bout or in ≥10 minute segments throughout the day.
Although aerobic exercise is very important, it is not enough (whether high or low-impact) to sufficiently strengthen your muscles and bones to protect against osteoporosis and should be performed in combination with muscle-strengthening exercises. Muscle-strengthening exercise is any type of exercise that provides resistance to your muscles and bones, including weight-lifting, resistance bands, weight machines, and body weight exercises.
Osteoporosis Canada released a new campaign called Too Fit To Fracture. In this campaign, experts recommend performing muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice each week with enough weight to make the last few repetitions hard to complete. Start out with a small number of repetitions and only one set and gradually work up to 8-12 repetitions and 2-4 sets. You can of course set other weight-lifting goals with varying numbers of repetitions and sets, but aim for using enough weight and repetitions so your muscles and your bones will be stressed and strengthened throughout your training.
For individuals with low bone mass and risk of bone fracture, weight machines can cause you to bend forward and/or twist while performing the exercise or adjusting the machine, which can increase your risk of fracture. Make sure you consult with a trained strength coach, personal trainer, and/or physical therapist for information on performing strength exercises safely.
Beyond weight-bearing aerobic activities and muscle-strengthening exercises, Too Fit To Fracture recommends performing postural alignment, balance, and flexibility training. As mentioned above, individuals with osteoporosis can start to lose postural alignment as their bones become weaker and fracturing and compression occur. Poor posture can exacerbate the osteoporosis-related problems leading to further stooping and unnatural back curvature.
Osteoporosis also places individuals at an increased risk of falling. Practicing good balance through basic balance exercises or organized programs such as Tai Chi can help reduce your risk of falling and fracture. Only participate in balance exercises you feel comfortable performing, and use balance aids such as a bar or chair as you perform more difficult exercises. Flexibility training helps stretch tight muscles that occur from poor posture and can help individuals engage in activities of daily living that may have been too difficult to perform before.
Even if you already have osteoporosis, don’t think that all hope is lost. You too can increase your bone mass and functional abilities through weight-bearing aerobic exercises, muscle-strengthening exercises, balance, flexibility, and postural alignment training with the following precautions.
- Avoid high-impact exercises such as jumping and running unless cleared by your doctor or physical therapist.
- Avoid activities that require quick changes of direction such as tennis and basketball.
- Don’t twist, bend far forward, or perform exercises that will put large amounts of strain on your spine.
- Keep your spine in a straight or just slightly bent forward position to avoid compression of your spine and possible fractures.
If performing an unfamiliar activity, use balance supports to prevent falls until you feel comfortable to perform the activity on your own.
Most importantly, don’t wait!
Whether you have osteoporosis or not, start exercising for your bone health today! Make exercise part of your daily routine. If you are unsure how to start a safe exercise program that will strengthen your bones, contact one of our HomeFit In-Home Personal Trainers today!