Exercise and Healthy Bones

Osteoporosis conjures up images of older men and women who easily break their bones. The bones lose mass. This leads to increased bone fragility and risk of broken bones, particularly of the hip, spine, wrist and shoulder. However, research is encouraging us to exercise so that we can prevent, maintain and perhaps restore our lost bone mass.

It is a scary statistic. Broken bones from osteoporosis are more common than heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined. At least one in three women and one in five men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime as they age over 50 years.

Photo by C. W. Clark
Photo by C. W. Clark

The statistics related to broken hip are particularly disturbing. There were approximately 25,000 hip fractures in Canada in 1993. Twenty-eight per cent of women and 37% of men who suffer a hip fracture will die within the following year. Over 80% of all fractures in people over 50 years are caused by osteoporosis.

Although osteoporosis occurs mostly in people over 50, it can happen at any age. Other diseases and medications can cause a decrease in bone density. In my case, I had parathyroid tumor that extracted the calcium from my bones to the point where I had lost 25% of my bone mass. Until the tumor was surgically removed, I was in constant pain and suffered broken a wrist.

It is generally accepted that gentle, weight-bearing exercise can help prevent or cease the progression of osteoporosis. Weight-bearing and strength building activities stimulate new bone growth and help improve posture, balance, and range of motion. Osteoporosis Canada recommends a comprehensive exercise program includes all of the following:

  • Weight bearing exercise
  • Strength training exercise
  • Posture training
  • Balance training
  • Stretching

These are also all the components of a good yoga program as well.

Osteoporosis Canada also states that your exercise program should be tailored to your fracture risk. If you exercise too vigorously you may increase your risk of breaking a bone.

A recent study was published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy examining the risks and benefits to the spine of particular forms of movement relative to the practice of yoga.

Their conclusions about were:

  • Spinal mobility is a significant factor in maintaining the health of the spine’s components, including the vertebrae, muscles, discs, and joints.
  • Spinal articulation is central to reducing the risk of fractures, and movement of the spine is necessary for keeping the trunk muscles strong and flexible to maintain balance and diminish the risk of falls.
  • Movement of the spine is also important for maintaining functional health, range of motion, and the ability to perform activities of daily living.

Yoga may safely help you with osteoporosis. You will want to minimize your fracture risk by emphasizing bending from the hips and not from rounding the back. In addition, a practice should bring you through all ranges of motion of your spine and hips to strengthen and stretch all the muscles supporting them.

To have healthy bones, moderate, weight-bearing activities (like yoga) appear to be of greatest benefit in supporting the spinal column, promoting balance, improving posture, and enhancing quality of life.

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3 comments

  1. This is very interesting. I used to do lots of yoga but that was quite a while ago. Now I have RA (as well as osteoporosis), I have contemplated doing yoga again (modified, as I can’t put too much pressure on the wrists, knees and hips for example). At the very least, I can still do some stretches in addition to walking. It is a good point that exercising too vigorously can increase the risk of fracturing a bone. In fact, I tore the 10th left rib in two places just by coughing! I haven’t stopped exercising but now do more gentle exercise (i.e. walking rather than running). Thanks for this post.

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