Over 50 million Americans are affected by osteoporosis and bone fractures, making prevention methods a focus and putting exercise benefits in the spotlight.
A recent hip hop study—no not the music, we literally mean hopping—has shed some light on how to reduce fracture risk, specifically fractures from osteoporosis. The study, conducted through a special mapping technique at the University of Cambridge, demonstrated that just two minutes of hopping per day could strengthen hip bones and reduce the risk of fractures after a fall.
Men over the age of 65 took part in a number of hopping routines that put stress on their hips. Hopping allowed researchers to make comparisons between participants’ legs. CT scans were taken and analyzed through a bone mapping process that showed clear differences between the legs. After a full year of hopping, bone mass increases were observed. Most startling was that there were improvements in the thinnest areas of the bone. These areas are most at risk of fracture after a fall.
Researchers concluded that regular exercise could counteract the impact of bone aging, thus helping prevent and manage osteoporosis.
Since the study only involved men, we don’t know if men and women would get the same benefits from the exercise; however, the research suggests that the improvements recorded in men are similar to bone gains experienced with osteoporosis drugs in women who have fragile hips.
Facts about osteoporosis fractures
Osteoporotic hip fractures are not the only concern. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become thin and porous. This leads to a decrease in bone strength and a risk of breaking bones—and not just hip bones. The wrist, spine, and shoulder are also common sites for osteoporotic fractures.
While osteoporosis is seen mainly in the elderly population, it can strike at any age. One of the reasons it hits the older population is because we begin to lose bone in our mid-30s. As women approach menopause, they lose bone mass at a greater rate, from two to three percent per year.
Some medical officials call it the “silent thief,” since bone loss can occur without any symptoms. There are people who have no idea they have an issue with their bones until they experience a fracture. Every year, over eight million people worldwide have fractures from osteoporosis.
Why exercise is important in osteoporosis
Osteoporosis exercises are encouraged for a number of reasons. First and foremost exercise is good in a general sense, but building muscle strength can be really beneficial to people who may be at risk of losing bone mass. Stronger muscles can help improve balance, which can prevent falls. Balancing exercises are therefore a good addition to any workout routine. Regular exercise that includes muscle strength or resistance training, as well as weight-bearing aerobic activity, can help prevent bone loss as we get older.
You don’t have to get overly aggressive, especially if you have already had a fall and are nervous about exercise. Non-impact activities such as balance and posture exercises can benefit people with osteoporosis even though they don’t build bone density. These non-impact approaches can still increase muscle strength and decrease your risk of falling and potentially breaking bones.
If you are at risk of osteoporosis or you have already been diagnosed with it, most doctors agree that supervised weight-bearing exercise is the safest.
Exercises that strengthen bones and reduce fractures
If you want to experience the benefits of exercise and reduce fracture risk, there are four different areas you should consider.
- Strength training – This area of exercise focuses on free weights, such as dumbbells, weight machines, or exercise bands. They can make muscles and bones work by lifting, pushing, and pulling.
- Balance training – These exercises reduce your base of support. For example, instead of standing on two legs, you stand on one. Challenging your balance can actually strengthen it.
- Posture training – This involves paying attention to how different parts of your body are aligned. The alignment of the spine can become a concern for people with osteoporosis.
- Weight-bearing aerobic activity – This can be a rhythmic activity that you do for at least 10 minutes at a time. Jumping rope, tennis, or dancing are good examples.
Yoga and Pilates are two very popular forms of exercise today. They can improve strength, balance, and flexibility. While they may sound enticing, certain positions may not be safe for people with osteoporosis. As an example, movements that require you to bend forward could increase your chance of breaking a bone in your spine.
Here are some of the exercises that fall into the above categories and that osteoporosis sufferers say they have had success with.
- Functional movements, such as standing and rising up on toes
- Doing low-impact aerobics
- Using stair-step machines
- Fast walking on a treadmill
- Tai Chi
Canada’s physical activity guide recommends that all adults take part in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise five or more days per week. To put it in perspective, with moderate exercise, you can still have a conversation with someone while working out, but with vigorous exercise, it’s harder to breathe and harder to talk.
If you don’t already have an exercise routine in place, consider your ability and factor in your fracture risk, as well as your overall health status. Start at a level you feel comfortable with and a level you know will be safe. Take it slowly, and if you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor.
It is only natural that when most people are diagnosed with osteoporosis, they feel fear. That fear is usually related to falling and breaking bones. It’s important to note that many people with osteoporosis live comfortable, happy, active lives. Many individuals credit the benefits of exercise, specifically osteoporosis exercises, with giving them renewed confidence to get on with their lives.
Tips for preventing osteoporosis fractures
Prevent fractures due to osteoporosis by following these three tips:
Watch your step: While fancier shoes like high heels or leather-soled dress shoes may look better, they can increase your risk of falls and resulting fractures. Instead, opt for shoes with lower heels that provide support for your fit and have a rubber sole to prevent slipping. Wear your shoes inside too, as socks or slippers slide on tile and wooden floors, making them more dangerous. When walking outside, take into account the weather conditions and wear appropriate footwear. If it’s been snowing, wear boots with good tread and try walking over the grass to avoid icy patches of concrete.
Look on the bright side: Unfortunately, as we age our eyesight begins to suffer as well, making it harder to see objects that could potentially cause trips and falls. Install overhead lights that you turn on by flicking a switch rather than having to fumble for a lamp in the dark. Also, keep a nightlight on in your bedroom, hallway, and bathroom to increase visibility for bleary, late-night visits to the toilet. Keep a flashlight near your bed to make these visits easier, or in case the power goes out so you are never left trying to find your way through hazards in the dark.
Fall-proof your home: Your home is where you spend the majority of your time, and as such, one of the best ways to prevent fractures due to osteoporosis is to ensure your home is fall-proof. Clear out all clutter by keeping clothes, knickknacks, and other fall hazards away from the floor and stored safely. If you have hardwood or tiled floors, install carpet or plastic runners to give you more traction and prevent slipping. Any rugs that can move, cords, and phone wires should be kept off the floor to prevent tripping. Install a handrail in stairwells so you can steady yourself, and add a railing in the bathroom to help with getting in and out of the bathtub. A rubber mat on the shower floor can also help to prevent a nasty fall in the shower that could result in fractures.