World Osteoporosis Day (tomorrow – October 20th) has the tagline “Step up for bone health” this year – how apt. Step ups are just one of the exercises I advocate to help boost bone health, but how does it all work? Osteoporosis affects one in three women aged 50 plus. Osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and weak so that they are prone to breakages, these fractures can be a major cause of pain and have a horrendous impact on daily life. But the great news is that there are things that we can do to help combat the drop in bone density which causes osteoporosis.
First up – exercise. Strength training specifically is so important as we age. Our bone density naturally reduces as we get older from the age of 35+ (and especially post menopause with the decrease in oestrogen) along with muscle mass which is where the increased fracture risk comes in. Strength training (with weights, bands or body weight) helps to build more bone tissue and stimulates our bone cells to produce bone resulting in stronger and denser bones. The loading we put our bones under during strength training enhances this effect when compared to non-weight bearing activities. Just 30 minutes 3 times per week of exercise has been shown to enhance brown cell growth and subsequently bone density.
So how do we go about these exercises? As a strength training coach, I focus on devising workouts which really focus on building bone strength both using weights and without. Examples of strength training with just bodyweight would be hill/stair walking, skipping, dancing and jogging, where the impact of movement can have bone strengthening benefits. If you already suffer with weak bones or osteoporosis, you need to be careful of any high impact moves or sudden twists in the spine, so do consult your doctor regarding the correct exercise programme for you before getting started.
If you have weights or bands then incorporate these into your workouts to add extra resistance – for example weighted squats or lunges would be ideal. Press ups and planks also are great exercises with just bodyweight.
As well as being vitally important to our bone health, resistance training also helps us to build our muscle mass (and no we aren’t talking about bulking up here), helping with our overall balance, reducing the risk of falls and injury but also giving us a huge mood boost along the way! It also helps with weight management, improves our sleep and our health…. the list is endless!
Secondly is nutrition – having a balanced, healthy diet is vital but particularly calcium, vitamin D and protein which are key to bone health. Also avoid smoking which will have an adverse effect on your bones.
If you think you are at risk of osteopenia you can have a bone scan which will show you exactly the current health of your bones if you are concerned.
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