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I was asked to write an article for Health and Fitness Travel that they could share on World Osteoporosis Day. With the idea of raising awareness around¬†osteoporosis¬†prevention,¬†helping you¬†to¬†understand how you can¬†maintain good bone health¬†and even optimise it.¬†Most of you are women and unfortunately we are more likely to get hit, so I thought this piece may be of interest…

I must caveat this article by saying that whilst I am a fully qualified Osteopath, Movement Teacher and Trainer I am not a medical Doctor Рplease do consult your own Doctor if you have concerns about your bone health. 

What is Osteoporosis? 

Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become fragile and more likely to break. It typically develops over many years and is often diagnosed after a fall or impact injury. There is a term for the stage before osteoporosis called osteopenia. Here you have lower bone density than the average for your age, but not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis. Be reassured that osteopenia doesn’t always lead to osteoporosis. 

Who gets it?

Whilst loosing bone density is expected as we age there are factors that can increase your risk in being diagnosed with osteoporosis. These include having / a history of low BMI or eating disorder, medical conditions (such as inflammatory or hormone related conditions), not exercising regularly, sedentary lifestyle, heavy drinking or smoking. 

If you are reading this and you are female, I am afraid we are 4 times as likely to be diagnosed. Lighter thinner bones are more susceptible to the condition and longer life expectancy increases the prevalence too.  

The good news 

We can reduce our risk, and movement / exercise play a big part in doing so.  

Without diving too deep into the science of it all, it will help if you understand that stress on bone encourages growth and resilience. That stress typically happens in two ways:

  1. Muscle pulling on the bone 
  2. Impact Рwith the ground or another object 

We therefore want to incorporate exercises that cause tension and impact within our training, now as osteoporosis typically affects those over the age of 50 you want to incorporate these two factors in a safe controlled way. Yoga and Pilates are a fantastic place to start, and we will come back to that with more detail Рbut I would say standalone they aren’t enough.  

The amount of impact you require really exceeds that of yoga / Pilates, if you can get this from cardiovascular training then you are killing two birds with one stone: bone health and heart health.  

It isn’t that exercise (yoga, Pilates, or Strength work) eliminates your risk of osteoporosis, but earlier on I highlighted that osteoporosis is often diagnosed after a fall or injury. Therefore, if our balance, stability, and strength is improved (as often the case with someone following a thorough exercise programme) our risk of falling or injuring ourselves is reduced.  

Things to avoid  

A training programme or yoga and Pilates Class designed specifically for someone with osteopenia or osteoporosis shouldn’t be too dissimilar to one that you would give someone with optimum bone health. 

We just want to be mindful of exercises or movements that may increase risk of fracture. As a rule, I encourage students (clients or patients) to avoid anything too repetitive, rapid, heavily weighted or sustained.  

People also say avoid twisting and folding Рhowever these are movements we carry out all the time in our day-to-day life. I personally would rather teach them well and safely to build strength here so that students avoid injury when they replicate these movements day to day. 

Recommended Exercises 

I am going to cover the three key focus areas and share a few exercises I recommend for them. 

1. Apply tension (or resistance)  

Weight Training –¬†Using barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells,¬†sandbags¬†and many other great pieces of equipment we can row, push, pull,¬†carry¬†and challenge¬†ourselves. Add weight and resistance to¬†all¬†your favourites – squats, deadlifts, lunges, push¬†ups, pull ups, single leg step ups,¬†Cossack¬†squats.¬†

Pilates РWith small hand weights, a Pilates ball or circle you can intensify any mat-based class. Pilates Reformer is another wonderful way to challenge and add tension in a safe and controlled environment.  

2. Improve your balance 

Yoga Рis going to be your best friend here. Balance really can come and go so when you are practicing don’t beat yourself up if some days its great and others its rubbish. The majority of yoga works and challenges your balance so roll out your mat and get going! 

Weight Training & Pilates –¬†Both¬†offer and include great unilateral exercises (exercises you do one side at a time) so as a means of exercising¬†they are¬†also going to help your balance and coordination.¬†¬†

3. Adding impact 

We think impact and we think running and jumping. Great if you are someone who has always performed these exercises, or you are in particularly good health and you feel confident with these movements.  

However, they can be quite demanding, overwhelming, and even quite risky if you are new to them Рstart slow, work with a trainer that is going to ensure you are safe in these movements and build up strength and tissue tolerance. 

Start Now 

I want to leave you with one last thought.¬†How old will you be in ten¬†years’ time?¬†Now I want you to take yourself there – are you agile,¬†strong,¬†and healthy?¬†

As we age it is much easier to maintain agility, strength and health as opposed to developing it. If you start now, you really will thank yourself. Try the yoga class, book a Retreat, give Pilates a go, pick up those weights… 

I hope that has given you a little understanding or more awareness of Osteoporosis. Unfortunately like many medical conditions we can’t fully prevent them but we can always help, and by improving our overall health we are stronger to fight the problem (should it arise).

If you have any questions then please do reach out to me. 

Keep mindfully moving,

Jess xx

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