Exercising with osteoporosis: Stay active the safe way
Osteoporosis is a condition wherein the bones get demineralised and become weak, thus predisposing to fractures. Post menopausal women are most commonly affected by osteoporosis, and are a leading cause of fractures and morbidity in older women.
Normally there is loss of mineralisation with aging, but it accelerates after menopause. This is because the beneficial action of estrogen on the bones is lost after menopause. There is often a misconception that women with osteoporosis should avoid exercise. This is not true and on the contrary exercise is probably the best way to strengthen the bones and prevent fractures. However it is necessary to follow the right exercises as some physical activities can cause trauma.
The major effects of exercise on post menopausal women are
- Increases muscle strength
- Improves balance
- Make daily activities easier
- Maintains and improves posture
- Relieves or decrease pain
- Improves sense of well-being
Before you start it is worthwhile checking with your doctor about the right exercises for you. It is also pertinent to get a bone density measurement and fitness assessment. Once this is accomplished, you should choose an exercise or activity which is enjoyable to you. There are no hard and fast rules here and the choice is totally yours.
The following are the exercises which are commonly recommended:
- Strength training exercises, especially those for the back
- Weight-bearing aerobic activities
- Flexibility exercises
- Stability and balance exercises
Strength training involves use of free weights or machines or resistance bands. Strength training improves the strength of muscles and provides support to the bones. It also prevents further demineralisation of the bone. It is advisable to start with small weights usually in the range of 2.5 to 5 pounds and then gradually increase the load. Strength training also improves posture by tonning and strengthening the muscles of upper body and arms. It also helps prevent compression fractures of the spine. Bench press is a very good way of strength training.
Weight bearing aerobic exercises
These exercises typically involve exercises done on your feet. These include walking, dancing, low impact aerobics, stair climbing, elliptical machines and gardening. These prevent demineralisation of the bones of the legs and feet and also have important cardiovascular benefits. Although swimming and exercises in water are very good activities, they do not impact bone mass in a substantial way. Hence these can be used in rehabilitation after fractures or prolonged immobilisation.
Flexibility exercises are exercises that are designed to improve the flexibility of the body. These typically comprise of stretches. These exercises improve posture and balance and increase the damage to muscles during other exercises. Every session of exercise must start with gentle stretches followed by warm up and then a cool down period and again followed by stretches at the end.
Stability and balance exercises help muscles work together in a way that keeps the body stable. These usually involve exercises on a single leg or movement based exercises such as tai chi may improve balance and stability.
Apart from these exercises you can pick up any activity which is enjoyable to you and pursue it. However there are some exercises and activities that are best avoided by women with osteoporosis. These include high impact exercises like jumping, running or jogging. These activities increase the stress on the week bones and may cause fracture. Moreover these movements are prone to falls and hence may cause fractures. Secondly avoid over stretching and twisting of spine as it can lead to compression fractures of the spine.
Being active is probably the best way to keep osteoporosis at bay and also improve performance and fractures in osteoporotic women. Hence exercise must form a daily routine in post menopausal women.