Osteoporosis – Never Too Late for Action!
Osteoporosis is Latin for “porous bone.” It’s a silent condition with no outward symptoms and that causes the bones to become weak, brittle, and easily breakable. In people with osteoporosis, bones can break from a minor fall, or even a simple cough can facture a rib. In older men and women, osteoporosis can be a contributing factor to a decreased quality of life. Osteoporosis is becoming major public health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans. Osteoporosis is often under-recognized and under-treated. As baby boomers age, the incidence of bone density disease can lead to increased medical costs.
Who Gets Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is an equal-opportunity disease. Significant risks have been reported in people of all ethnic backgrounds. Most people think that osteoporosis is only a concern for women, but one out of four men over the age of 50 could develop a fracture in his lifetime. Often considered an “older person’s disease”, osteoporosis can strike at any age. Osteoporosis can lead to an increased risk of fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist.
Your bones are living structures that are re-modeling themselves every day. The bones you build today are the same ones you’ll need to stand on in the future. When we are young, we gain more bone density than we lose. Bone density progressively increases until a maximum level is reached, usually around age 30. But after about age 35, things change and we start to lose bone density. Bone density is much like a honeycomb, a person with good bone density will have a tightly woven bone matrix. Someone with osteoporosis will have gaps in the honeycomb that make it weak, and at risk for a fracture. With proper stimulation (i.e. exercise) and proper diet bone density can be maintained.
The Importance of Exercise
One study found that after a year of moderate exercise, women with low bone mass density (BMD) avoided a further decline in hip BMD as compared to sedentary individuals. Another study of elderly women with low BMD who performed a systematic exercise program for 30 weeks showed a prevention of bone density loss at the hip, and significantly fewer falls. It appears from research that exercise programs incorporate weight-bearing or load-stressing activities can improve bone quality outcomes for women with osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Five Steps to Better Bone Health
1. Consult with your health professional or a nutritionist/dietitian about your diet, including your calcium and vitamin D intake.
2. Engage in regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise. Wolfe’s Law says, “The forces applied to the bones have a direct relationship to the strength of the bones.” When the muscle pulls on the bone, the bone responds becoming stronger.
3. Adopt a healthy lifestyle that avoids smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
4. Speak to your healthcare provider about any side effects of medications you are taking that may affect bone health.
5. Have a bone density test.
Avoiding Osteoporosis Injuries
While movement is generally good for your bones, too much or the wrong type of exercise is equally bad. It’s always prudent to consult a physical therapist about recommended exercises for your personal needs. Keep in mind that what’s good for your friend may not be the best for you. However, don’t let fear keep you from preserving your bones, improving your posture, and balance. Below are some movements and exercises you should be aware of to minimize injury if you have osteoporosis:
• Avoid stretches/activities that cause you to bend and twist forcefully. Some examples include golf, bowling, tennis, and some yoga moves. My book, Stretching for 50 Plus, offers safe stretches for people with osteoporosis. (Available through Amazon)
• Use caution when doing household and gardening chores. See a physical or occupational therapist for advice to performing these activities safely.
• Train don't strain. Avoid exercising too hard, or do heavy lifting.
• Do everything possible to prevent a fall! My book, Stability Workouts on the Balance Board, provides ideas to improve your balance and stability. (Available through Amazon)
Osteoporosis is not inevitable, and it’s never too late for action. Although there’s no cure for osteoporosis, it can be treated. However, prevention is always better than treatment! A healthy lifestyle including a nutritious diet, a regular dose of proper physical activity, and avoidance of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to positive outcomes.
Dr. Karl Knopf has been involved in health and fitness for over 40 years. During this time, he has worked in almost every aspect of the industry, from personal trainer and therapist to consultant. While at Foothill College, he was the Coordinator of the Adaptive Fitness Technician Program and Life Long Learning Institute. Dr. Knopf is the author of over 15 books on fitness for people over 50, published by Ulysses Press, that are available at their website, http://ulyssespress.com/, and at Amazon and local bookstores.