Exercising Safely with Osteoporosis
Improve your strength, balance, flexibility, and bone health
Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder in which bones become porous and weak that can effect some of us, especially women, over the age of 50. As bones become more fragile, a person’s risk of bone fractures increases. Very often, people in the early stages of osteoporosis don’t experience any symptoms of bone loss—most people do not even know they have it until they suffer a fracture. But as the bones become weaker, even a cough or a sneeze may cause a break.
RISK FACTORS & PREVENTION
Osteoporosis can happen at any age. And while it is most common in older women, men can have it, too. Other risk factors include:
• Age: The older you are, the greater your chance of osteoporosis.
• Genetics: Osteoporosis tends to run in families.
• Personal History: You’re at a greater risk if you have a history of broken bones.
• Body frame: Having a smaller build means you have less bone mass to draw from as you age.
• Hormones: Menopause is marked by a drop in estrogen, which is a hormone that protects bones. When estrogen levels decrease, bones may lose density and become prone to breaks.
• Diet: It’s important to eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
• Being inactive: A sedentary lifestyle increases your chance of osteoporosis.
• Habits: Smoking puts you at a greater risk for developing the disorder.
• Alcohol: Heavy alcohol consumption inhibits normal bone formation by impacting your body’s calcium supply.
• Medications: Certain medications, particularly steroids, can weaken your bones.
The good news is, you can help keep your bones strong and possibly even prevent osteoporosis with proper nutrition and regular exercise! Building strong bones during childhood and the teen years is important to help prevent osteoporosis, but there are steps you can take now to slow natural bone loss and prevent your bones from becoming weaker and more brittle.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, adults should do the following to protect their bones:
• Get enough calcium and vitamin D, and eat a well-balanced diet.
• Engage in regular exercise.
• Eat foods that are good for bone health, such as fruits and vegetables.
• Avoid smoking and limit alcohol.
EXERCISE AND OSTEOPOROSIS
If you have osteoporosis, you might mistakenly think exercise will lead to fracture. In fact, though, using your muscles helps protect your bones. (Mayo Clinic)
This is exciting news! To help you determine the types of exercises and movements that are safest for you—and which ones to avoid—it’s important to talk with your doctor. If osteoporosis is suspected, exercises in which you bend forward may increase your chance of breaking a bone in your spine. Together, you and your doctor can put together an exercise plan that will safeguard your bones and improve your overall well-being.
Pietra Fitness (PF), a stretching and strengthening workout that incorporates Catholic prayer, is a great way to keep moving. PF classes can help you improve your strength, balance, and flexibility, and promote good bone health. Because all bodies are different, many of the moves used in PF classes can be modified. While attending a live class with an instructor is the best way to learn these modifications, here is a list of some general guidelines for those who have osteoporosis. You can even incorporate some of these modifications at home as you move throughout your day. (Please note, these are general guidelines. Your doctor or physical therapist knows what exercises are and aren’t good for you.)
• Focus on slow, controlled movements to decrease your risk of falling and to keep proper alignment. Alignment comes first in all movements!
• Try to keep your spine as long as possible throughout exercise and while transitioning from one movement to the next. Lengthening the spine creates space between the vertebrae, which can help prevent or correct the collapse of the spine that happens with poor posture.
• Osteoporosis weakens the bones and joints, so jumping or quick dynamic exercises are not recommended. Also, quick changes in direction or position are not recommended.
• Exercises that require spinal flexion (rounded-back) should be avoided because it puts stress on your lower back. This means staying away from forward folds, even gentle ones. It also includes toe touches, crunches, sit-ups, and lying on your back hugging your knees into your chest. This seems to include most exercises that strengthen the core. While core strength is important to support your low back, these exercises require loaded lumbar flexion. This places too high a demand on the lower back, which may lead to fractures. Instead, you can work on core stability while the spine is in a neutral position (lengthened and long) by gently drawing your abdomen in and up on an exhale and relaxing the muscles on an inhale.
• Incorporate weight-bearing exercises if you have been given clearance by your doctor to do so.
• Practice gentle and mild side bends, backbends, hip stretches, and twists if given clearance by your doctor. Only go as far as you can without sacrificing spinal length.
• When working on balance or standing exercises, have a wall or chair handy to prevent falling.
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and your bones are the foundation for your temple. Caring for your bones is caring for your temple—and results in fewer aches and pains, slower bone loss, rebuilding of bones, and feeling strong and capable.
The content and information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please see a physician or health professional if you suspect you have osteoporosis.
Karen Barbieri is founder of Pietra Fitness.