Osteoporosis is one of the most common, and most physically crippling, age-related illnesses seen among aging adults. It is estimated that over nine million fractures each year are caused by osteoporosis—that works out to one osteoporosis fracture every three seconds. The number of osteoporosis-related fractures is higher than heart attacks, strokes, and breast cancer diagnoses combined. At least one in three women over 50 will experience a fracture from osteoporosis, along with one in five men. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 44 million Americans are at risk of being diagnosed with the condition.
Osteoporosis is caused by low bone mass density and deteriorating bone tissue. With age, the body begins to generate bone mass slower than the rate at which you lose it. As a result, bones become increasingly fragile over time, which then leads to a higher risk of fractures that are most commonly seen in the spine, wrists, and hips. With osteoporosis, even fracturing a bone once increases the chances of another fracture in the future. Other than easily breakable bones, there are no real symptoms of osteoporosis. Fortunately, simple lifestyle changes can drastically reduce the risks.
Osteoporosis sufferers often believe that extensive physical activity is too risky for frail bones, but in reality, regular exercise is actually one of the proven ways of averting the development of osteoporosis. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, there are two different types of exercise that are important for building and strengthening bone mass: weight-bearing exercises, and muscle-strengthening. Both also enhance muscle control and balance, which help keep you from falling, and possibly breaking a bone if you suffer from osteoporosis.
Weight-bearing exercises are actions that keep you upright and on your feet, but force you to work against gravity, such as dancing, walking, or climbing stairs. Muscle-strengthening exercises work your body against some form of resistance, like weights or a steep incline. Yoga and Pilates are also considered muscle-strengthening exercises because you’re working with your own body weight. Actions in either category don’t need to be high-impact to be effective—the key is finding the right level that works for you.
The International Osteoporosis Foundation suggests doing exercises that are specially designed for working on posture, balance, coordination, walking patterns, and hip stabilization. It is also recommended that osteoporosis patients incorporate a warm-up routine for 10 to 15 minutes before the workout, followed by a cooldown component for at least five minutes afterward. This system has proven to be effective for women between the ages of 65 and 75 who are living with osteoporosis. However, be sure to check with your doctor before taking on a new exercise routine.
Along with exercise, other healthy living tips for preventing and managing osteoporosis are cutting out cigarettes, minimizing alcohol consumption, and making well-balanced nutritional choices. Fruits and vegetables are always a good pick when it comes to bone health, as are calcium and vitamin D.
There’s no reason osteoporosis should hold aging adults back because much can be done to prevent, slow, or even stop the condition from progressing. With the right treatment, it may even be possible to reverse osteoporosis by continuously building bone density. Regular exercise is a step in that direction.
“Exercise for Strong Bones,” National Osteoporosis Foundation web site; https://nof.org/articles/238, last accessed May 13, 2013.
“Exercise Recommendations,” International Osteoporosis Foundation web site; https://www.iofbonehealth.org/exercise-recommendations#Recommended exercises for patients with osteoporosis, last accessed May 13, 2013.
“Facts and Statistics,” International Osteoporosis Foundation web site; https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics, last accessed May 13, 2013.
“What is Osteoporosis?” Osteoporosis Canada web site; https://www.osteoporosis.ca/osteoporosis-and-you/what-is-osteoporosis/, last accessed May 13, 2013.