My mother’s skeleton crumbled when she was in her 80’s. I have a mental picture of a collapsing infrastructure that can no longer support the body around it. In the space of five years, she had joint replacements in both hips (caused by fractures in two separate falls) and both knees. Now at the age of 93, she is fortunate that her surgeries have extended her mobility into her nineties.
Not everyone is so lucky. Twenty-four percent of hip fracture patients age 50 and over die in the year following the fracture; many of those who survive can no longer live independently.
Osteoporosis – which literally means “porous bones” – is a bone-thinning disease caused by a loss of mineral (primarily calcium) that weakens the bone structure, making it vulnerable to fracture. It is a silent disease, and a bone fracture may be the first symptom that you have it.
Exercise is a key factor in preventing this condition. Like muscles, your bones get stronger when you make them work, training them to handle more stress or resistance. Exercise has a dramatic effect on the growing skeleton, which is why it is essential for children, adolescents and young adults to be physically active.
By age 25-30 your peak bone mass, the highest bone content of your life, has been established. Although the bone continues to renew itself, from this time on you experience a natural decline in bone density which accelerates in women for several years after menopause before leveling off again. With advancing age, bone continues to decline in both men and women.
After age 40, the goals of exercise are to maintain bone mass, offset or reduce bone loss and improve balance and coordination to prevent falls. Exercise should maximize the load to the bones with a progressive (i.e. gradual intensification) program of weight bearing aerobic exercise and weight lifting. Assuming your joints are healthy, you should aim for:
- High impact aerobic exercise: defined as activities in which both feet are off the ground at the same time, as in running, jumping rope, and high-impact aerobic dance; also sports like basketball, volleyball and gymnastics. For bone formation, you need to maximize the ground reaction forces, the force with which your body hits the ground.
- High intensity weight lifting: using the heaviest weights you can lift in good form for 8-12 repetitions with the last few reps being challenging. Do 1-3 sets of each exercise.
To target bones throughout the body, do exercises for all the major muscle groups: Hips and thighs, back, chest, shoulders, arms and abdomen.
- Balance and stabilization exercises: using a stability ball, BOSU and foam rollers, which recruit the muscles of the core body as you master unstable surfaces. Improving your balance reduces your risk of falling. Being able to recover from a stumble or change direction can prevent a fracture.
Remember: To protect your joints from injury, use good judgment regarding high impact exercise and high intensity weight lifting. Be sure to increase the workload gradually.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis,downshift into low impact exercise to avoid jarring the spine and other vulnerable joints.
Of course, this information should not take the place of guidance from your own physician or other medical professional. Always consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program or becoming much more physically active.
- Exercise Benefits for Osteoporosis (everydayhealth.com)
- Should Osteopenia Be Treated? (everydayhealth.com)
- Osteoporosis 101 (everydayhealth.com)