Know your bones - Exercise for Osteoporosis!

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Over 2.2million Australians over the age of 50 are affected by osteoporosis. A skeletal disease characterised by low bone mineral density, occurring when bones lose minerals such as calcium more quickly than the body can replace them. A T-score is used to determine bone mineral density which classifies your bone health into three categories including; normal, osteopenia and osteoporosis. Being osteopenic or osteoporotic can often result in increased bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture. In 2018 alone, there were over 165,000 broken bones from osteoporosis in Australia. It’s easy to see why looking after your bone health is important as you age.

The is no one direct cause to developing osteoporosis but there are factors that increase risk of development. Females are immediately at higher risk, as there are five times more women (15.1%) aged above 50 who have osteoporosis or osteopenia compared to men (3.3%). This is due to the rapid decline in oestrogen levels during menopause. Men also lose bone as they age; however, testosterone levels in men decline more gradually so their bone mass remains adequate until later in life. Other lifestyle factors including inadequate amount of dietary calcium, smoking, excessive alcohol or caffeine intake, long-term use of medications (corticosteroids) and the big one, lack of physical activity.

Some may think, just because your bones are weaker, you should do nothing to ensure they don’t get any worse, well in fact, it’s the opposite. Exercise is recognised as one of the most effective strategies to help prevent, manage and improve bone density. Bones become stronger when a certain amount of impact or weight bearing stress is placed on bones. This helps to prevent or slow bone loss, manage posture changes, improve muscle strength, balance and co-ordination whilst reducing the risk of falls and fractures later in life. Exercise can maintain and improve bone density, reducing risk of fractures by up to 95%. Those who are inactive are at 56% higher risk of a fracture occurring than those who are physically active. Some exercises are better at building bones than others, these include:

·      Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing, stair-climbing and jogging encourage maintenance of bone density.

·      Progressive resistance training helps to build muscle strength and mass which can take pressure off joints to help maintain and improve bone mineral density.

·      Balance, coordination and mobility exercises including Tai Chi, Pilates and balance challenges are also encouraged to help reduce risk of falls and sustaining fall-related injuries.

Exercise not only improves bone and physical health but enhances mental health and wellbeing, assists with sleep and increases overall quality of life. However, despite these benefits, only 17.2% of adults aged over 65 are meeting the physical activity guidelines. It is recommended to accumulate at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all days, consisting of a range of physical activities that incorporate weight bearing, strength and balance exercises. If you are unsure of where and how to start, don’t be afraid to ask for help, either chat to your doctor or an allied health professional about your goals. Exercise Physiologists are qualified allied health professionals whom prescribe effective and safe exercises for those with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular, neurological or musculoskeletal conditions or injuries. They can help you find an exercise regime appropriate for you. Remember everyone has to start somewhere. Start low, start slow and gradually build up as you develop. It’s never too late to start moving to keep moving!

Katie Crawley