What is Osteoporosis / Osteopenia?
Osteopenia is a condition where people’s bone density is lower than is usual for their age. This is the precursor for Osteoporosis, which is a more severe case of bone loss that weakens the bones and makes them more likely to fracture. Although Osteoporosis affects men and women, it is highly prevalent in post-menopausal women due to hormone changes that lead to bone and muscle loss.
Osteoporosis can be both prevented and managed through key lifestyle factors, including nutrition, supplementation, stress-management- and exercise.
Why does exercise help with Osteoporosis?
There are two main reasons that a person who has been diagnosed with osteoporosis should start incorporating exercise into their daily or weekly routine.
- Some exercises (weight-bearing and impact loading) will not only slow bone loss- they can also at a cellular level promote the stress response needed for the body to initiate bone growth and repair. So you can actually improve your bone density through targeted exercise.
- If you have already been diagnosed with low-bone density, you’re at a much greater risk of fractures. Exercise can help create the strength and stability needed to reduce the risk of falls that lead to those injuries.
What exercises help Osteoporosis?
It’s important to remember that to stay safe when exercising, you need to work at a level that’s right for you. If you’re a complete beginner, you may want to start off working on things like posture, core stability and technique. If you are a more experienced athlete, you need to make sure that you are continually challenging your body (progressive overload) so that you get the stress response that triggers bone and muscle growth.
There are two main types of exercise that are great to help people with Osteoporosis.
- Weight-bearing/Impact loading exercise
Weight bearing exercise simply means any exercise where you are holding your own body weight, so running, weightlifting, Pilates or even dance is preferable to things like swimming or cycling.
Impact loading means that we need to start adding in some speed and/or power to the movements. Higher velocity movements create a greater response in the body to initiate bone production. If you have some experience and if you don’t have a history of fractures, jumping can be a great option, including box jumps, trampolining or skipping. However if you’re a beginner and/or you have a history of fracture, you’ll want to stick to things like stair-climbs, foot stamping or squats with a chair.
A full body strength training program or strength class with weights is a good option for all levels, although complete beginners will want to make sure that they have the help and guidance of an experienced exercise professional.
- Balance Exercises
Good balance is key to preventing falls. Static balance is your ability to hold a position; things like:
- Balancing on one leg
- Balancing on an unstable surface
- Balancing on your toes
Dynamic balance is our ability to react to the environment around us and includes movements such as:
- Stepping on or over objects
- Getting off the floor or out of a chair
- Quick changes of direction
If you have low bone density, it’s important to be able to do all of these movements without falling and risking fracture.
I go walking every day – do I need to do more?
Although walking is classed as weight bearing exercise, a simple daily walk probably isn’t enough to help prevent or manage osteoporosis/osteopenia. This is due to a few reasons:
- If you walk every day, your body is probably used to that level of activity. It will no longer be overloading the body or initiating the response to produce new bone or muscle growth.
- As mentioned, higher impact/speed weight bearing exercise is most effective for maintaining bone health. A walking speed of at least 2.5mph (4km/h) is needed to have an impact on your bones.
- Even if you’re able to maintain a brisk walk (or run instead) this will only impact the bones in the lower body. To improve full body bone health, you might want to consider exercises that incorporate the upper body and lower body together.
If you’re uncertain of where to begin, speak to a local exercise professional or see if there’s a healthy ageing / osteoporosis specific group exercise class near you.