Osteoporosis: An introduction and exercise programmes for sufferers

It's not just about bones

It doesn't matter what age you are right now or what gender, this article is for you! It's never too early to get your body ready for aging but it's also never too late to mitigate the effects. 

The International Osteoporosis Foundation says that 1 in 3 women over age 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, as will 1 in 5 men aged over 50 - worldwide. But you don't have to be a statistic! Let's find out more.

What is osteoporosis?

It essentially means that your bones are porous or not as dense as they should be. This increases the risk of fractures and breaks which are bad enough on their own but also have other knock-on effects. 

Who gets it, when and why?

While women or generally more prone, men can still get it! 

It often appears in women after the onset of menopause and men are particularly prone over the age of 70.

Our bones are strongest in our late 20's. By your early 30's your body starts to atrophy. Loss of bone density is part of the natural aging process but in some cases this is accelerated and turns into osteoporosis, also known as "Brittle Bones". 

What other factors contribute?

  • Other conditions such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS and hormonal disorders
  • People who are very slim or have small frames are more susceptible
  • Smoking
  • Inactivity
  • A diet low in calcium and vitamin D
  • Not enough sunshine
  • Excessive drinking
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs like cortisone
  • Easting disorders such as Bulimia and anorexia

How can you tell if you have it?

Until there is a fracture, osteoporosis often remains undiagnosed. It may also be noticed with a difference in posture as your vertebrae change.

 
As osteoporosis progresses, the vertebrae weaken and become flatter. This can cause a severely rounded back ("dowager's hump"). Image & caption thanks to Ortho Info

As osteoporosis progresses, the vertebrae weaken and become flatter. This can cause a severely rounded back ("dowager's hump"). Image & caption thanks to Ortho Info

 

There are tests out there that you can request such as a DXA scan which is a bone mineral density test - this is something that women over 50 and men over 70 should consider. 

Biggest Myth

People often think that the way to mitigate osteoporosis simply to each calcium rich foods. The reality is that having good stability, mobility and balance will go a long way to protecting you against the effects of the symptoms.

The main cause of concern is through the risk of fractures and breaks. We all hear about the elderly "having a fall". With stability, mobility and balance in place, your risk of a fall is greatly reduced.

Think about it this way: if you strengthen the muscles around the bone you are strengthening the structure around your bones. Your muscle strength is critical. It's not about being bulky, it's about being strong enough to hold your body upright and stop yourself from falling. 

What can you do to try to prevent it?

Taking care with environmental factors that are in your control such as smoking, diet and sunshine are very important to your general health and have been discussed on Strong Words many, many times. 

Diet in particular is important, as part of your unprocessed, balanced diet, concentrate on adding plenty of bone buildings foods that are rich in vitamin D and calcium.

Addressing inactivity is essential but we can do better than that.

Regular weight bearing exercise can effectively reduce your risk of falls by giving you stability, mobility and balance and can reduce the speed of bone density loss. Amazing, right? The earlier you start, the better. 

What if you already have osteoporosis or the symptoms related to it?

If you already have symptoms or have been diagnosed with osteoporosis it isn't too late to start!

Having said that, there are some exercise that should be avoided. HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is not for you, neither is power-lifting or exercise that include a lot of spine twists which means that you need to be careful with pilates and yoga. For everyone else - these exercises are all excellent.

Stick to low impact options, anything that strengthens the muscles around the spine are great. Look for machine weights with controlled movements, brisk walking, racquet sports, gardening, mowing the lawn, golf, movements with Thera Bands.

Ride-on mowers don't count, Susan!


Introductory Exercise Programmes for those with Osteoporosis 

I've prepared three beginners weight bearing programmes for you to try out.

If you are not exhibiting symptoms of osteoporosis and everything else is fine you should be looking at normal strength and conditioning programmes to help you fortify your body.

Using Only Body Weight

Great for when you don't have access to a gym or if gyms aren't really your thing. You can do this anywhere, in the bedroom or lounge room, outside in the garden or in the park. Do it on your own or grab a friend and egg each other on.

  1. Split Squat - x 12 reps
  2. Push up on the knees - x 12 reps
  3. Floor Bridges - x 12 reps
  4. Straight arm plank - hold for 30 seconds and build up the time

Do a full circuit of each exercise with 2 minutes of recovery between each circuit.

 

Resistance Machines Program

If you have access to a gym, these machines should be available. Choose weight levels that XXXXX. Don't be afraid to ask for help, especially when it comes to using the machines properly.

  1. Leg Press - x 10 reps
  2. Seated Neutral Grip Row - x 10 reps
  3. Seated Leg Curl - x 10 reps
  4. Seated Chest Cable Press - x 10 reps

Do 4 sets of 10 reps before moving on to the next exercise. Take a 60 second break between each set.

 

Free Weights Program

If you have access to free weight such as dumbells or kettlebells give these a go!

  1. Goblet Squat x 12 reps
  2. 1 Arm Row x 12 reps 
  3. Hip Thrusts on Bench x 12 reps
  4. Flat Chest Press x 12 reps

Do a full circuit of each exercise 4 times with a 2 minute rest in between each circuit.

 

If you would like a video or photos of the exercises involved let me know! You can leave a comment below or send me an email at info@gracebrownfitness.com

Let's get moving together!

Grace xx


Further reading and references:

Check out some great resources on WebMD for exercise types and a good general overview article on osteoporosis.

The International Osteoporosis Foundation and the UK based National Osteoporosis Society have tonnes of great resources.

Ortho Info has great medical explanations.