Osteoporosis, or bone loss, is one of the biggest fears most women have about growing older, and for good reason: statistics from the International Osteoporosis Foundation show that one out of every three women over 50 worldwide will sustain a bone-loss related fracture in her lifetime. Many of these fractures eventually result in deaths from complications. Osteoporosis is believed to affect over 75 million people in the USA, Europe and Japan.
Part of this is due to the fact that more developed countries, people tend to be more sedentary, whether at work or in their leisure time, as well as eat a diet higher in refined (and often nutritionally-deficient) foods.
Osteoporosis isn’t just a woman’s disease: studies show that men sustain about 20-25 per cent of all hip fractures. In fact, men over 50 have a 27% higher chance of sustaining a bone loss-related fracture than of developing prostate cancer.
What types of exercise reduce osteoporosis?
Along with diet that includes calcium-rich foods, there are three kinds of exercise that have been shown to sharply reduce the chances of osteoporosis in women and men.
With weight-bearing exercise, your body’s legs and feet support your weight. Some examples of weight-bearing exercise are:
- Climbing stairs
Some activities, such as swimming or cycling, are great workouts for heart or lungs but don’t put enough stress on bones to strengthen them enough to be of bone-building value.
How much exercise do you need to get to prevent bone loss? Some experts believe that walking at least 3 miles a week can provide significant results. If you have been sedentary (and your doctor gives his or her approval) getting at least half an hour of vigorous exercise at least five times a week will give even better results.
Remember that if you already have osteoporosis certain activities, such as jogging, can put additional stress on your spine, resulting in fractures. Try more low-impact forms, such as dancing or even gardening, to keep moving without stressing weakened bones.
Resistance means working against the weight of an object, such as a barbell or weight machine. If you’re not already used to working with weights, these may include:
- Weight machines found in gyms and fitness centers, as well as free weights, such as barbells
- Resistance tubes that look like giant rubber bands and come in several strengths
- Water exercise – your muscles move against the water and strengthen bone in the process
How often should you do resistance exercise? Most experts recommend at least two to four times weekly for optimum benefit. For best results, gradually add weights or more repetitions to your routine, working all of your muscle groups. Don’t overdo it, though – give your muscles time to recover in between workouts.
Being flexible as well as having good balance is important to help prevent falls – a big cause of bone fractures. Tai chi, yoga and stretching movements are all good ways to become and remain flexible and strong. Tai chi and yoga, especially, are good for balance.
Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if you’ve been sedentary and are out of shape. A trained fitness instructor can suggest the right kind of exercises to safely prevent bone loss and, in fact, strengthen your bones.