Bones are living tissue that constantly renews and destroys itself. An individual’s bone tissue reaches its peak mass in the late teens or early 20s, although some bones may continue growing past age 30. Between the ages of 30 and 50, bones gradually start to lose mass and strength faster than the body can replenish it. For post-menopausal women, the problem is accelerated by diminishing levels of estrogen, a hormone that plays a pivotal role in regulating bone loss. The bones gradually become thinner and more prone to fracture. According to the research, one out of every two women and one out of every eight men over age 50 has an osteoporosis-related fracture.
Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, occur typically in the hip, spine, and wrist.
Any bone can be affected, but of special concern are fractures of the hip and spine. A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can impair a person's ability to walk unassisted and may cause prolonged or permanent disability or even death. Spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.
Exercise. Weight-bearing exercise and strength training are essential in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. When it comes to maintaining strong bones, “use it or lose it” is the order of the day. Strength training also improves strength and balance, which help prevent falls that lead to fracture.
Exercise makes our bones strong and resilient, while inactivity leads to diminished bone mass and weakness. It’s important to remember, though, that exercise—walking, jogging, stair-climbing, weight-lifting, aerobics, tennis, dancing, or some other form of weight-bearing or resistance exercise— must be done regularly to bring long-term benefits.
While regular exercise is essential in the treatment of osteoporosis, caution must be used to avoid fractures. Calisthenics which curve the spine forward, such as sit-ups, curl-ups, and toe touches, should be avoided. Also, the following exercise machines should be avoided: abdominal exercisers, bicep-curl machines, cross-country ski machines, rowing machines, stationary bicycles with moving handlebars, and any other machine that involves trunk rotation or forward bending.These devices can cause vertebral fractures in people with significant osteoporosis. Sports that twist the spine (such as tennis, golf, and bowling) should also be avoided if you are at high risk for a fracture.
Good posture can’t prevent osteoporosis, but it may help minimize the effects of the disease.
Good posture—when you are standing—is straight vertical alignment of your body from the top of your head, through your body’s center, to the bottom of your feet. When sitting, good posture means keeping the spine and head erect while maintaining the three natural curves of the back. A soft, narrow pillow behind your waist will help keep your spine in a neutral position.
Vertebral fracture in the spine, commonly seen in people with osteoporosis, leads to poor posture—and an impaired sense of balance. To counteract this problem your physical therapist may prescribe certain exercises to improve your posture and sense of balance. These can help you improve muscle strength while increasing your mobility.
One of the most important ways to help prevent osteoporosis is by including enough calcium in your diet. Calcium is found in dairy products and, to a lesser degree, in dark green vegetables such as broccoli and kale.
If you avoid dairy products because of concerns about fat intake, remember that skim milk, fat-free yogurt, and ice milk retain 100 per cent of their calcium while sparing you the fat and extra calories. If you are lactose intolerant, you may want to try reduced-lactose or lactose-free dairy products, which are also rich in calcium.
Calcium supplements in tablet or capsule form can help you ensure that you’re getting enough of this vital mineral. While it is preferable to obtain calcium from food, supplements are a viable way to satisfy average daily calcium requirements.