What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become fragile and brittle, leading to a higher risk of fractures (breaks or cracks) than in normal bone. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them, leading to a loss of bone thickness (bone mass or density). As a result, bones become thinner and less dense, so that even a minor bump or accident can cause serious fractures. Fractures due to osteoporosis (osteoporotic fractures) can lead to changes in posture (e.g. developing a stoop or Dowager’s hump in your back), muscle weakness, loss of height and bone deformity of the spine.

How can osteoporosis be prevented?

Regular physical activity on a long term basis has an important role in maintaining healthy bones. Exercise can maintain and increase bone strength by increasing bone mass or by slowing age related bone loss. Regular activity can also improve muscle strength, which is important in supporting joints and helping to reduce the risk of falls. Exercise has also been shown to improve co-ordination and balance, which helps to prevent falls and to improve general physical health and well being.

Be aware that any positive gains in bone strength are lost when you stop exercising, so that it is important that your exercise is regular and ongoing.

Exercises for bone health

There are two main types of exercises that are beneficial to bone health:

Weight bearing exercise

Your bones become stronger when they bear weight during exercise and when some amount of impact or strain is placed on those bones. The best strain is from activities that may be new to your body, which means your bones are getting a variety of forces and loads on them.  Examples of weight bearing activities are jogging, walking, golf, netball and basketball.

Higher impact activities, such as aerobics, running and jumping, have a greater effect on bone strength than low impact activities and everyday activities, such as normal walking, are not considered to be especially bone building because they produce a strain that is normal for the body.

High impact activities may not be suitable for everyone, especially for those with joint problems or other medical conditions. If you are unfit or inactive, lower intensity exercise is a good starting point as you are able to progress to more moderate intensive exercise over time.

Resistance exercises (lifting weights with your arms or legs)

Resistance exercises, better known as strength training, can have a good effect on bone health and have been shown to reduce the number of falls in the older population. The  muscle contractions required to move a heavy weight place stress or ‘strain’ on the bone that the muscles are attached to. When bone is ‘strained’ repeatedly (as in regular exercise training) it responds by increasing bone mass to become stronger.

Everyday activities do not produce enough ‘strain’ to change bone mass, so resistance exercises need to be increased as the body adapts to each new level. Targeting muscle groups around the hip, spine and arms with weight lifting is also beneficial.

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are also some important lifestyle changes, medications and fall prevention measures that you can adopt to reduce the risk of osteoporosis having a further impact on your health.  If you would like to know more on how you can change your lifestyle and begin fall prevention aspects to improve your health, please call a physiotherapist to arrange a time at your nearest clinic.