What image comes to mind when you hear the word “osteoporosis”? Do you think of your old grandmother who broke her hip when she tripped over her dog? Or that poor old woman with the awful “widow’s hump” on her back? Perhaps your doctor mentioned that perhaps, now that you are approaching your 40s (or 50s), you should think about going for a bone density test.
But you’re still young and as a young woman, you probably do have far more immediate health concerns. There’s a wonderful website, Mommy Authority, where you can get easy-to-read and informative articles about health issues that concern you, right now. Click here to check them out.
However, although you may think that you are “safe” from osteoporosis for many years, it’s never too early to start taking steps that could reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis in later life. Fortunately, the steps you take now to reduce your risk of osteoporosis, will also have a positive impact on your health right now too!
Osteoporosis is a disorder that causes low bone density and deterioration, or breaking down, of the structure of the bone itself.
You Are Not Alone
It is a really common condition. Research estimates that it affects between 15-55% of the world’s population. In some countries, this equates to around every 4th woman and every 17th man over the age of 50 years. Yes, that’s right – men develop osteoporosis too although it is much more common in women.
With osteoporosis, the bone breaks down faster than it can build up. This is a slow process that can usually occur without symptoms. One of the first signs of osteoporosis is often an acute bout of back pain. The most common sites for this bone breakdown are the upper and lower back, as well as the hip.
There are certain factors that may place some people at a higher risk of having a low bone density. These include factors you can’t do anything about such as being female, being thin or having a small frame, getting older, having immediate family members who have osteoporosis, being postmenopausal and having low testosterone levels.
However, there are also factors that you can control: insufficient calcium intake, excessive smoking or drinking, the use of certain medications such as corticosteroids – and, possibly most importantly, having an inactive lifestyle.
Why should the risk of osteoporosis concern you? People with osteoporosis are more likely to break or fracture their bones and fractures can have a negative effect on chronic pain and quality of life.
And so it becomes incredibly important to try to reduce the risk of falling and preventing fractures.
Exercise and being active play a really important role in the prevention and management of osteoporosis. For example, the stress that we place on our bones whilst exercising actually helps the bones to change their structure and therefore become stronger.
There is a vast amount of evidence for the role of exercise in improving bone density, and as long as it’s done properly, can successfully (and cost effectively) help manage osteoporosis.
What Type Of Exercise Is Best?
For our general health, it is recommended that we participate in 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous, physical activity per week.
However, if you have never exercised, or have not done much exercise for a long time, you should start an exercise program slowly and progress slowly.
Weight bearing exercises are a great way to improve bone density, especially in the hip joint. You can try exercises such as light jumping, walking, running and vibration exercises.
Resistance training, which improves muscle strength using body weight, gym-machines, hand weights or resistance bands, helps to improve the strength of the bone at the specific joint being used. However, resistance and weight-bearing training that exceeds the bone’s ability to adapt should be avoided. Therefore, exercise should start slowly and progress slowly, and should avoid increases in intensity by more than 5% per week.
Balance exercises can also be effective in training our body awareness, and re-activeness, and therefore helps to reduce the risk of falling. Stretching exercises are also important to improve movement in the joints and help with flexibility.
Try to avoid exercises or daily activities that encourage a slouched posture or rounded shoulders, as well as very high impact exercises (plyometric or jumping with a weight), and sit ups with resistance.
Remember that exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve bone health – and the sooner you start to take care of your bones, the less likely you are to develop the painful, debilitating disease of osteoporosis.