Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones characterized by brittle and fragile bones. If you suffer from osteoporosis you are more likely to suffer a fracture if you fall. Even a small fall may cause a fracture in someone with osteoporosis which may not have in someone not suffering from osteoporosis.
We cannot modify some of the risk factors that cause osteoporosis, like sex, age, race, family history, and body frame size. But there are other risk factors that we can modify to decrease our risk of getting osteoporosis, like excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, low calcium intake, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Exercise is good for you and your health regardless of how old you are and whether or not you suffer from osteoporosis. Studies show that people who exercise regularly have lower rates of depression, heart disease, dementia, cancer, and diabetes.
Exercise is important to protect the spine, build muscle strength, slow the rate of bone loss, and prevent falls.
Good posture is essential for your bones. Always sit and stand as tall as possible. Poor alignment of the vertebrae, the bones that make up your spine, especially during activities that involve bending and twisting, can cause fractures. Spine fractures result from the compression of one vertebrae against another and can cause pain, disability, and deformity of the spine, like an excessively curved upper back, “hunchback” shape. Weak back muscles can also cause the spine to curve. Exercising the back muscles can help improve posture and decrease spinal fractures. It is easier to achieve good posture if you engage your core muscles by pulling your belly button towards your spine, lowering your shoulders, and gently drawing your shoulder blades, in your back, together.
Like muscles, bones also atrophy if not used. Exercise results in stronger muscles which in turn stimulate bone growth. Exercises aimed at increasing muscle strength, combined with weight-bearing aerobic physical activity, help to prevent bone loss.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “the best exercise for building and maintaining bone mass is weight-bearing exercise: exercise that you do on your feet and that forces you to work against gravity”. Examples are walking, jogging, step aerobics, dancing, stair climbing, and sports that involve running and jumping such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and others.
Exercises that increase muscle strength involve performing movements against resistance and can be performed using equipment such as dumbbells, weight machines, or exercise bands.
The North America Menopause Society (NAMS) recommends:
- Target specific muscle groups (the large extensor muscles of the back, the hip flexors and extensors, muscles of the thigh, upper arm, and forearm) in order to affect areas of the skeleton most often involved in osteoporotic fractures.
- To strengthen your back, perform gentle spinal extension exercises while seated (sit tall, look up toward the ceiling, and arch your back) and lift the lower ribs off the pelvis.
Swimming and cycling are not weight-bearing exercises but are aerobic physical activities good for your heart.
Good balance is needed to prevent falls which in turn prevents fractures.
NAMS says that “balance work should begin with a chair for support, especially if you already have osteoporosis. While holding the chair, practice standing on one foot at a time. Gradually, work up to balancing on one foot without using the chair. Advanced activities include tai chi and yoga, which improve muscle strength, flexibility and balance. Note that yoga can be both beneficial and risky in women with osteoporosis. There is controversy regarding the safety of some of the spine-twisting positions in yoga. Toe touches and sit-ups should be avoided because they increase the weight placed on the spine, which may result in spine fracture in high-risk women”.
During the menopausal transition:
*the levels of estrogen decrease and that blunts the desire to be physically active
* estrogen regulates the amount and distribution of fat
*estrogen decreases the level of energy we spend at rest
*women lose a lot of bone mass
This predisposes menopausal women to gain weight, particularly in the abdomen, muscular atrophy, and losses in muscle strength, functional decline and high risk for osteoporosis. It is very important that women become aware of these risks and take the time and effort to look after their bones, muscle and health by exercising regularly.
The Canada’s Physical Activity Guide “suggest that ALL adults (including those over 65 years of age) participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity on most days of the week (5 days a week or more)”.
Spring is coming, enjoy the outdoors and exercise your menopausal bones!
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