One of my favorite quotes is “Movement can replace many drugs, but no drug can replace movement.” Exercise is the key in the prevention and treatment of many diseases. Exercising has been shown to improve your cardiovascular (heart) system, increase muscular strength, improve the health of your brain, and improve your mobility. Did you know that exercising can even build stronger bones? Osteoporosis and osteopenia can be prevented and treated with proper exercising and proper nutrition.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is defined as decreased bone mass resulting in an increased risk for fractures (1). An estimated ten million Americans over 50 years old are diagnosed with osteoporosis. An astounding 80% of those affected are women (1,5). About 34 million women over 50 have been diagnosed with osteopenia, or low bone mass, a precursor to osteoporosis (5). While a small decrease in bone density is normal in the aging process, osteoporosis occurs when there is an abnormal imbalance between bone break down and bone repair.
Our bones are constantly breaking down and repairing themselves. When our bones are “stressed,” through our daily movements, our body cleans up the older, broken down bone and lays down new, healthy bone. Osteoporosis occurs when our body breaks down bone too rapidly, or does not place down enough new bone. We have two types of bone: cortical bone (thick outside wall) and trabecular bone (interior bone). Our trabecular bone stores calcium. If we are not getting enough calcium from our diets, both bone types becomes thinner and weaker making them more at risk for fractures. Osteoporosis can affect anyone, however Caucasian and Asian women, thinner individuals, smokers, and those whole regularly consume alcohol are all at increased risk for having osteoporosis.
How can Exercise Help?
Women reach their peak bone mass between ages 30-35(1). That means NOW is the time to start building your bone health. Many studies have found that weight-bearing and resistance exercise can improve health and even REVERSE bone loss (2). Resistance exercise uses our muscles to pull on the bones (stressing them). This bone stress will stimulate the body to clean out old bone and lay down that new, healthy bone. Not to mention that regular exercise will improve strength and balance, reducing the risk of falling.
Where to Start
Walking is a safe form of exercise for all ages that promotes bone re-absorption and formation. Walking can provide a huge benefit to our health because it helps to reduce our risk for osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (just to name a few). Along with walking, core exercises are a good place to start. Bone loss frequently occurs in our spine first, working on our core and gluteal strength will help maintain bone density in our spine.
One great core exercise to start with is the “bird dog.” Assume the starting position on your hands and knees, tightening your stomach muscles to keep your spine straight. Start by extending one arm out at a time not allowing your body to tilt. Hold for a count of five, then repeat to the opposite side. Repeat five to ten times on each side. Once that is easy, progress by extending one leg at a time not allowing your pelvis to drop. Use the same hold and repetitions. To challenge yourself even further, extend your arm and opposite leg at the same time, while keeping your spine straight through the whole exercise.
I challenge you to start walking and building your core strength today! If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, talk with you doctor to better understand what exercise, nutritional, and drug combination will be safe and effective for you. If you are interested in learning more about osteoporosis and more safe exercises, keep an eye out for our 6-week Women’s Health Osteoporosis Class offered twice a year at Buffalo Rehab Group!
1. Aisenbrey J. Exercise in the prevention and management of osteoporosis. Physical Therapy Journal. July 1987; 1100-1104.
2. Dohrn I, Stahle A, Roaldsen K. “You have to keep moving, be active’: Perceptions and experiences of habitual physical activity in older women with osteoporosis. Physical Therapy Journal. March 2016; 96(3): 361-370.
3. MacKinnon J. Osteoporosis: A review. Physical Therapy Journal. October 1988; 68(10):1533-1540.
4. Palombaro K, Black J, Buchbinder D, Jette D. Effectiveness of exercise in managing osteoporosis in women postmenopause. Physical Therapy Journal. August 2013; 93(8):1021-1025.
5. Perry S, Downey P. Fracture risk and prevention: A multidimensional approach. Physical Therapy Journal. January 2012; 92(1): 164-178.