Being diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia can be scary, but with more information it needn't be!
1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men over 50 in the UK suffer from osteoporosis. Many more suffer from low bone density (osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis).
Did you know your bones are alive and constantly changing? This is largely due to hormones - oestrogen for women and testosterone for men.
In childhood and adolescence (up to our 30s) our bones are growing, they then stabilise until around middle age, or menopause for women, when bone loss begins. It's very important to build up our 'bone bank' with weight-bearing activities such as running, jumping, weight lifting, sports, etc. as we approach our 30s because bone loss is dependent upon how much we had to begin with as well as other risk factors (e.g. smoking, genetics, low body weight, sedentary lifestyle, high caffeine, low calcium intake, etc.)
The main risk with osteopenia and osteoporosis is fractures. These mainly happen in the wrist, hip and spine due to the type of bone tissue present (a whole article in itself).
If you've been diagnosed with either, the main ways to combat bone loss are:
Diet: Maintaining a balanced diet which includes calcium and vitamin D which helps the body absorb calcium. The Royal Osteoporosis Society has lots of great advice here.
Medication: Speak to your doctor about medication that might work best for you given your stage or osteoporosis / osteopenia and other risk factors. They might prescribe biphosphonates, calcium & vitamin D supplements, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or selective oestrogen receptor modulators (SERMS).
Exercise: Movement is incredibly important for building bone density. This is where Pilates can help! Weight bearing exercise, loading the bones, is the best type to keep bone loss at bay and stimulate bone growth even after middle age. This could include brisk walking, jogging / running / jumping (if appropriate), stair walking, strength training with weights or bands, spending time bearing weight on all 4s. Gradually and continually adding more weight or more challenge stimulates even more bone growth - they like a challenge!
Balance and coordination: Arguably this could have been included in 'exercise,' however I believe it's important in its own right because it is the biggest way to decrease the risk of falls which can lead to fractures. This is why we spend time in each class balancing because if we don't use our balance we lose it. Why not even practice balancing while the kettle boils or brushing your teeth!
Posture: Improving posture, in particular making your spine nice and tall can help further prevent hunching forward and putting more pressure on your spine. For example, in class we work on your front strengthening your upper back with Darts, Diamond Press, Cobra, etc.
While you shouldn't be afraid to move with a diagnosis of osteoporosis, osteopenia or previous fractures, the one thing you should avoid is loaded spinal movements. In Pilates classes this means we'll avoid you curling up, doing roll backs and even roll downs which all load the spine. In severe cases, we might even avoid hip rolls with the feet up (loaded spinal rotation) and side reach with arms (loaded spinal flexion). If you're ever unsure I'd be happy to have a chat as I am Bone Health Certified.
The key takeaway, keep moving, grooving and working on your balance!
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