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Exercises to Help Fight Osteoporosis

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 21 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Osteoporosis Bone Density Bone Fractures

Osteoporosis (loss of bone density) is one of the diseases many women dread as they get older, as it can lead to serious bone fractures. While men can develop this condition too, it is more common in women, especially after they pass through menopause and suffer the loss of oestrogen, which is a bone-building hormone. However, there are ways to fight osteoporosis and aside from the right nutrition (and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol), one of the best ways to fight osteoporosis is through weight-bearing exercise.

Osteoporosis: a modern problem

Given out modern lifestyles, it is hardly surprising that millions of people around the world suffer from osteoporosis. The main reason? Lack of use. For example, the pelvic bones and hip joints are designed to rotate through a wide range of motion but hardly get any movement when many of us are sitting in front of our computers for hours every day. This means that our bodies receive the message that they are not being used – and therefore, there is no need to maintain as much density as if the hips were actually moving in the way they were designed to do. This applies similarly to the ribs, wrists and spine – the other most common places prone to bone loss.

The good news is that bone is constantly being built up and broken down by your body all the time, regardless of age. This means that you can start to increase the amount of bone tissue your body builds at any time, just through proper nutrition and the right kind of exercise.

Weight-bearing exercise

The type of exercise needed to stimulate bone to increase tissue density and become strong is ‘weight-bearing exercise’. This essentially means where the bones of your skeleton are bearing the weight of your own body while you are moving/exercising. Thus, walking, running and jumping are all forms of weight-bearing exercise – whereas cycling and swimming are not as the body’s weight is being supported by something else (ie. the bicycle or the natural buoyancy of the water). Other weight-bearing exercises include dancing, racquet sports, hiking, basketball and high-impact aerobics classes – as well as things like doing push-ups and holding yoga poses. It doesn’t have to be fancy – in fact, an intense walking program (which includes things like walking up stairs and hills) is one of the best bone-building exercises around.

Weight training (lifting weights) is slightly different to weight-bearing exercise but it can also help in fighting osteoporosis by challenging your bones more – providing that you are standing when you are using them, so that your skeleton is taking the combined body weight. It is not much use if you sit and lift weights – this may build your arm muscles but won’t do much for your bone density.

A good exercise plan to fight osteoporosis would be to do weight-bearing aerobics exercise, for half an hour each time, at least 3 times a week – combined with strength-training activities (weight lifting) twice a week.

Balance and flexibility

Another type of exercise which – while not helping directly with increasing bone density – is equally important is that focusing on balance and flexibility, such as Yoga. This is because osteoporosis leads to falls which cause bone fractures. In fact, statistics show that 50% of women over the age of 50 will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture, most commonly of the hip, spine or wrist. So if your flexibility and balance is improved, you are less likely to fall and hurt yourself.

Everyday habits to help fight osteoporosis

Aside from a specific weight-bearing exercise plan, there are many things you can do (or change) in your daily life that will help you fight osteoporosis. For example, try to choose activities which make you get on your feet so that you are loading up the bones in your body – so, instead of getting on a golf buggy, walk the course; instead of choosing a stationary exercise bike, go for a walk – and if you have to sit for long periods in the course of your job, make sure you take several STANDING breaks during the day.

Also try to vary your movements, so that your bones and joints are used to their full extent and potential. For example, our sedentary lifestyles mean that our joints are often only used in one direction – so try to occasionally do leg, arm or waist movements in different directions so that you challenge your joints in novel ways. Dancing is a good way of achieving this without you realising it. Even just walking sideways for a few moments each day will challenge your hip joints.

Finally, try to wear flat shoes where possible as this helps to build bone density much more than wearing heels or cushioned shoes. The two latter types dampen the vibrations which help to stimulate bone density increase, especially in the hips and spine.

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