-By Brett Qualls, PT, DPT, OCS
Most of us do not like the idea of aging, especially when it seems that we have no control over it. One of those age-related changes is a loss of bone density, which we term osteoporosis. With osteoporosis, we see the body breaking down old bone cells at a rate faster than the body is creating new bone cells. This results in bones that are less dense, and are ultimately at a higher risk for fracture. These changes occur sooner and more rapidly for women than men. They also tend to get progressively more advanced with the more birthdays that you have under your belt.
A woman’s risk for osteoporosis increases greatly following menopause. Other risk factors include tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle. While many of the risk factors are outside of your control, there are several in the list that can be managed with the life choices that you make.
So the bones are becoming less dense, whats the big deal? With this loss of bone density, the risk for fracture increases greatly. Hip fractures are one of the more common, and also most dangerous, fractures that we see in people with osteoporosis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men are at risk for an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. Fractures in the aging population tend to take longer to heal and often require surgery. Nothing sounds good about that.
While this condition is certainly one to be managed alongside your primary care physician, with necessary medications and supplements; is there anything that you can do to help? An active lifestyle, including resistance exercises, can help to minimize bone loss and may even help to increase bone density. Resistance exercise could include lifting weights, pushing/pulling a weight, wearing a weight vest during exercise, and much more. Women that have advanced osteoporosis should consult with a medical professional prior to starting any exercise program.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but fitness activities that include moving a weight can help to improve strength. These changes in strength come from improved activation of existing muscle, building muscle endurance, and increasing the size of the muscle. Studies show us that stronger women are less likely to fall, and are subsequently less likely to have an osteoporosis-related fracture. Exercising with weights can help to build and tone muscle. Exercise can also help to decrease your risk for falls.
Recent studies have shown that women who exercise regularly with weights, can see their rate of bone loss decrease and also see an increase in bone density. Standing exercises with weights or a weighted vest have the greatest impact on bone density. Examples of exercises from these studies included squats, lunges, step ups, standing bicep curls, and single-leg balancing. One study found nearly a 3% gain in bone density after 6 months of a regular strength training program.
While resistance exercise alone may not prevent osteoporosis, it can certainly help to slow bone loss and decrease your risk for falls. The available studies suggest a wide variety of options when it comes to what types of exercise should be done. The moral of the story is that exercise can help with osteoporosis, and it seems to be more beneficial to exercise with weights.
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