Everything you need to know about osteoporosis and exercise

Osteoporosis and exercise.

When we put on a class specifically for the older population (and we’re talking over 50s here) it’s not just a gentle class to make our participants feel better or that they’ve done something.

All our classes are specifically programmed to help our participants’ specific needs. It’s another one of those reasons for not doing drop in fitness.

It would also be pretty patronising to suggest that just because someone is over 50, they can’t enjoy challenging classes and fitness pursuits. I know plenty of 50 and 60 year olds who could beat me in a 5k run or in the pool.

Regardless of fitness leve, as a body ages there are specific concerns which exercise can help with. But it needs to be specific exercise. Osteoporosis and bone thinning is one of those concerns, especially for women.

Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly over several years and is often only diagnosed when a minor fall or sudden impact causes a bone fracture.

This term is thrown around quite a bit but it is an ‘under the skin’ condition which we don’t think about unless it affects us. The problem with this thinking and osteoporosis is it’s a slow process which gets worse over time.

Doing nothing about osteoporosis is like waiting for the slugs to get onto your plants before you put pellets down. So the question is what can we do?

Our skeleton is the frame for our body which houses nutrients and provides the scaffolding for muscles and tendons. It also protects vital organs such as the brain and the heart. The skeleton develops from birth and bone density increases up to around the age of 20. It then declines as we age. The process is greater with women due to genetic factors, hormones and lean muscle mass (see graphic below). We can’t do much about the hormonal or genetic factors affecting bone density, but we can do a lot about the ‘stress’ to our skeleton which slows down the bone loss.

Exercise, movement and osteoporosis

Skeleton stress.
You will no doubt have heard about the effects gravity has on the body for astronauts. For long space missions, due to the lack of gravity, astronauts have to exercise for two hours per day, just to prevent muscle loss and bone loss. Back here on earth, gravity is our friend and we need to use it more often. It is your main weapon against bone density loss.

Walking – this increases the stress to your skeleton by 2-3 times. The faster/more vigorously you walk, the more stress to your skeleton. Maybe add some light hand weights.

Running – this can increase the stress to your skeleton by up to 5 times. Although you have to weigh up the benefits versus the impact to knees. If you have a knee condition or diagnosed osteoporosis, avoid and speak to a health professional. 

Resistance training. Weights or anything which increases the resistance to your body.

Swimming – marginal to no benefit (but there are exceptions). It doesn’t mean swimming isn’t a great form of exercise, but the lack of stress to your skeleton means it isn’t the useful for preventing bone density loss. 

Sitting down for long periods and general inactivity. This is like throwing a bag of slugs onto your plants!

In summary, general movement is good for the body. You have to decide now what kind of bodysuit you want to inhabit when you are older. Do nothing now and you will be fighting an uphill battle.

There are dietary and supplementary things to consider, but I don’t want them to take the emphasis off more important factors.

I’ll save this for another time.

If you have specific questions please do get in touch.

For more information on our classes for older adults please check out Anti-Ageing Pilates and Move and Tone.


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