Offset osteoporosis through exercise and nutrition

Build up your bone strength through exercise

Osteoporosis literally means 'porous bones' and individuals with osteoporosis are at an increased risk of fracture. The hip, spine and wrist are the most common fracture areas and statistics show that after the age of 50, 20 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women will suffer a bone fracture as a result of the disease.

Here's our guide on how to beat osteoporosis through exercise and nutrition.

Woman stretching with weights

There are several identifiable risk factors that increase your susceptibility to osteoporosis but, equally, there are many positive steps that you can take to offset your chances of becoming a sufferer. Until osteoporosis strikes, most people are completely unaware that they may be susceptible, so read on to check out how you can limit your osteoporosis risk through:

  • Lifestyle choices
  • Exercise
  • Correct nutrition around exercise

Osteoporosis risk factors

Everyone is potentially at risk of suffering from osteoporosis, because as we age, bone loss occurs. There are also additional risk factors that can add to your susceptibility, including:

Gender

  • Women
    Due to falling estrogen levels through early menopause, early hysterectomy or cessation of periods, bone turnover is reduced. Poor diet and excessive exercise can lead to temporary loss of periods, so nutrition and exercise considerations are important.
  • Men
    Low levels of testosterone can lead to bone loss. This is a less likely occurrence than low estrogen levels in women, but it has the same effect on bone strength.

Alcohol consumption

A high alcohol intake reduces absorption of vitamin D which is needed to transport calcium (a key mineral for bone strength). Very recent studies have found that low alcohol consumption ( as little as three standard measures of less alcohol per week) may contribute to bone health but further research is needed.

Genetics

A close family history (parents) of osteoporosis, particularly hip fractures, increases your chances of becoming a sufferer. 

Lack of physical activity

An absence of both weight bearing activities such as walking and insufficient resistance training results in a weakened skeleton.

Smoking

If you are a smoker, in addition to other health problems, smoking has a toxic effect on your bones. The only cure is to give up!

Low calcium intake

Calcium is the key mineral for bone strength and approximately 99 per cent of calcium in the body is found in the bones and teeth. A deficiency will contribute to a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Exercise benefits

Following a structured exercise program is a key factor in osteoporosis prevention. Ideally, look to build up bone mass before the age of 35 and then maintain activity levels thereafter. However, studies have shown that correctly prescribed exercise can significantly help and offset osteoporosis at any age. Your training should fall into two separate categories:

  • Impact activities
  • Resistance training

To maximize your anti-osteoporosis training benefits, it is important to include both types of exercise in your training sessions.

Impact activities and exercises

Any form of exercise where you are supporting your own bodyweight, contributes to bone strength. The impact of activities like walking, jogging, racket sports such as tennis, squash etc. stimulates your bones to develop a thicker, stronger, structure and hence the likelihood of fractures is reduced. Conversely, activities where you are sitting down or your weight is supported, such as swimming (although an excellent aerobic exercise), do not build bone strength. For maximum benefits, carry out impact activities at least three times per week for a minimum of 20 minutes at a time.

Impact activities for bone strength

Low impact activities (less suitable for bone strength)
Walking Swimming
Jogging Rowing
Running Cycling
Skipping Hand cycling
Aerobics classes Yoga
Sports such as tennis, squash, badminton, etc. Cross-trainers

Resistance training

Lifting weights is the other key factor in preventing osteoporosis. Consider the physiology of what happens when you lift a weight:

  • Muscles are attached to tendons, which are attached to the bones of your skeleton.
  • A muscle or muscles contract.
  • The muscle contraction pulls on tendons.
  • The tendons pull on bones to achieve the desired movement.

 

The very action of a tendon pulling on a bone stimulates cells called ‘osteoblasts’ which increase bone density. This process results in stronger bones – significantly offsetting the effects of osteoporosis.

Therefore, it is extremely important to regularly train with weights, selecting exercises that bring as many muscles into play per movement as possible.

For example: for chest training, a chest press stimulates more osteoblasts than a chest flye because of the pressing movement, both the chest and triceps muscles are used, whereas in the flye movement, only the chest is employed. Hence, if more muscles are used, there is a greater effect on the skeleton and bone density.

Anti-osteoporosis training at the three most common fracture sites

Common fracture area Suitable exercise
Hip

Squat (with or without weight)
Lunge (with or without weight)
Wrist




Chest press
Shoulder press
Press-up
Bicep curl
Triceps press
Spine


Squat
Back extension (exercise caution with this area)

Nutrition in addition to exercise

Woman drinking milk

Maintaining your calcium intake is the number one dietary factor in the fight against osteoporosis. As well as dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, other good sources of calcium are:

  • Fish: sardines, whitebait, pilchards
  • Green leafy vegetables: watercress, okra, spinach
  • Other foods: sesame seeds, tofu, dried figs

It is recommended that you do not exceed 2,000-2,500mg of calcium daily, as too high an intake can interfere with iron absorption. The current recommended daily intake is 800mg per day, which ideally should come from foods rather than by supplementation. Focusing on obtaining your calcium from natural sources also ensures that you are eating a wide range of different foods for a balanced nutrition plan.

Research indicates that reducing your salt intake could delay the onset of osteoporosis. A high salt intake can raise blood pressure, which in turn speeds up the body’s loss of calcium, leading to osteoporosis. Try to keep your salt intake to less than six grams per day.

Conclusions about exercise and nutrition

Osteoporosis is known as the aging disease, but by following sensible exercise, lifestyle and nutrition habits, your chances of becoming a sufferer are significantly reduced. Additionally, the payback that you gain from your anti-osteoporosis focus extends further than simply just good bone health. Following the guidelines, will also significantly contribute to a good all-round health and fitness program with an extensive range of benefits as well.

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