Osteoporosis is a disease that deteriorates the bones and can lead to breakage, often in the hips, vertebrae, wrists, arms and ankles. Over 44 million Americans are afflicted or at high risk for it, striking mostly among women over 50. Though osteoporosis is perceived as an inevitable sign of aging, medical experts, such as Dr. Balch and Dr. Stengler in their book, “Prescription for Natural Cures,” state that poor dietary and lifestyle habits are mostly at fault. Along with medicine and a fortified diet, exercise is essential for treatment and prevention.
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How Exercise Helps Osteoporosis
People with osteoporosis may mistakenly believe that exercise will increase their risk of injury when it’s actually the absence of physical activity that weakens bones. Exercising muscles pull on the skeletal system, which in turn, stimulates bone formation. Muscle-building hormones induced by weight training benefit bone growth as well. Exercise also improves posture and balance to help reduce falling, which is the primary cause of fractures for the elderly.
Advice for Beginners
If you’re just starting a fitness program and have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it‘s imperative that you get clearance from your healthcare provider. Working with a physical therapist or exercise specialist is also highly recommended. The National Institute of Health advices against high-impact exercises such as running, jump-roping or high-intensity aerobics and other contraindicating activities that “flex, bend or twist” at the spine.Whether it’s aerobic exercise or a weight training session, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity, whether all at once or broken down into a minimum of 10-minute intervals.
Don’t forget to include at least 5 to 10 minutes of a warm-up to prepare your body for a workout and cool-down afterwards to bring your heart rate back down and stretch your muscles. To see results, you’ll need to stick to an exercise program for a minimum of six months, so consistency and patience are key.
Weight-bearing Aerobic Exercise
Cardio exercise for osteoporosis needs to be weight-bearing in order to be effective, which means any aerobic activity that forces your body to work against gravity. Options for beginners include brisk walking, hiking, the elliptical machine and light-step aerobics. While swimming and biking are great for the heart, they are not weight-bearing.With time and your doctor’s approval, you may intensify your workouts to include jogging, dancing and even fun sports like bowling or racquetball. Half an hour, three times a week is a sufficient cardio schedule to obtain bone-strengthening benefits.
Low Repetition, High Intensity Strength Training
For the resistance training portion of your workouts, focus especially on exercises that will strengthen the spine and the hips. You’ll need to lift with weights heavy enough so that you don’t go past 8 to 12 repetitions, called high-intensity strength training. This lower repetition range is more beneficial for osteoporosis than endurance weight training, which includes higher repetitions and a lower weight-load. Therefore, when you get stronger, it is important to increase your weight but not to lift more than this allotted amount for maximal bone health. Aim for one to three sets of repetitions per exercise, two to four times per week for 30 minutes.
Strength training options include machine weights, resistance bands, free weights and even your own bodyweight. Machine weights offer more stability and isolate muscle groups without adding stress to your joints and are ideal for beginners starting a high-intensity lifting program.
Free weights, resistance bands and bodyweight exercises strengthen your coordination and balance as well as your bones and muscles, but give yourself several weeks to a few months before progressing to these. Stick to exercises that focus on standing or sitting and avoid positions that require you to lie down unless under the supervision of a doctor or physical therapist.
Ellie Whitney and Sharon Rolfes: Understanding Nutrition, Eleventh Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth.
Michael A. Clark and others: NASM Essentials of Personal Training. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
American Fitness Professionals and Associates.”Osteoporosis and Exercise“.
National Osteoporosis Foundation.”Fast Facts“.
NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. “Exercise your Bone Health” .
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.