Beat Osteoporosis with Exercise

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By Karl Knopf, ED.D

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is Latin for “porous bone.” It’s a silent condition with no outward symptoms and that causes the bones to become weak, brittle, and easily breakable. Bone structure is much like a honeycomb, and a person with good bone density will have a tightly woven bone matrix.  Someone with osteoporosis will have gaps in the honeycomb that make it weak and at risk of a fracture. Osteoporosis affects an estimated 44 million Americans.

Who Gets Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is an equal-opportunity disease, and can affect people of all backgrounds. Although many people think that osteoporosis is mainly a concern for women, 1 in 4 men over the age of 50 will develop an osteoporotic fracture.

Can Osteoporosis be Prevented?

Being proactive about saving bone density is good advice no matter your age. Your bones are living structures that are re-modeling themselves every day. The bones you build today are the same ones you’ll need to stand on tomorrow.  Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can help to prevent osteoporosis later in life, while a middle-aged person should do everything possible to preserve bone density.  

Diet and Osteoporosis

Following a diet of sound nutrition both as a young person and an adult combined with a regular dose of proper physical activity and a healthy lifestyle can help prevent osteoporosis.  Proper nutrition is key in bone health, focusing on foods naturally rich in calcium (such as milk, cheese, and dark leafy greens) and Vitamin D3 (such as egg yolks, beef liver, and fatty fish) to help your bones build strength.

The Importance of Exercise

According to Wolff’s Law, “The forces applied to the bones have a direct relationship to the strength of the bones.” In other words, you can strengthen your bones with even gentle weight bearing exercises like resistance band workouts, free weight training, and jogging.  

Don’t forget to stretch! Especially if you are starting a new exercise regimen, stretching is a crucial component of risk reduction. Don’t rush your stretches and make sure you are performing them properly without hyper extending or straining joints. Especially after exercise, stretching is a great way to improve posture and circulation and preserve a natural range of joint motion.  

Six Steps to Better Bone Health

  1. Speak to your health professional about your bone health and concerns. Ask about the influence your medications have on bone density.
  2. Increase calcium and Vitamin D consumption through diet and consider supplements. Our bodies make their own Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but be careful as sunscreen can prevent Vitamin D production. Brief daily sunshine exposure is the best way to increase your body’s Vitamin D levels without risking sunburn. Egg yolks, beef liver, and fatty fish like tuna and salmon are also good sources of Vitamin D. Calcium is found in most dairy products, and in dark, leafy greens.
  3. Engage in regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise. Discuss a safe, sane exercise regimen with a physical therapist or health provider.
  4. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
  5. If you have osteoporosis, discuss medical treatments with your healthcare professional.
  6. Remember, what you do today determines your bone health tomorrow!

Dr. Karl Knopf is the author of several books including, Beat Osteoporosis with Exercise, Make the Pool your Gym and a new edition of Stretching for 50+: A Customized Program for Increasing Flexibility, Avoiding Injury and Enjoying an Active Lifestyle. He is contributor to the International Sports Science Association courses on Fitness Therapy and Senior Fitness, served as director of the fitness therapy program at Foothill College for almost 40 years, and is a board member for the Sit and Be Fit Organization, dedicated to the accessibility of function fitness regimes for all ages and mobility levels.

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