Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by the progressive loss of bone tissue, and is a common complication of aging. Osteoporosis is more common in older women due to a variety of factors, including the decline in bone mineral density of as much as 3% per year post-menopause (Rubin et al. 2004). That said, osteoporosis also affects men. In the U.S.A., approximately 2 million men are diagnosed with osteoporosis and many as 12 million more are at risk. Both osteoporosis and osteopenia are greatly undiagnosed in men (U.S. National Osteoporosis Foundation). Risk factors for both men and women include smoking, excessive alcohol use, low calcium intake and inadequate physical exercise throughout the life course.
Can you adequately prevent the loss of bone density or even build it back? The research is mixed and not conclusive. However, medical experts still recommend that older adults with osteoporosis perform weight bearing exercise and eat healthfully in order to prevent further bone loss. For those looking for promising ideas, here is some interesting research on additional practices that may be effective.
While it is still important to get enough Vitamin D and calcium, there are other key nutrients and even specific foods that may help in building and keeping bones strong. Getting enough protein is important, as studies indicate that older adults with a protein intake of less than 12% of daily intake are at higher risk of fractures (Langsetmo at al. 2015). Studies suggest that Vitamin K intake (found in dried plums, kale, avocado) is linked to reduced risk of fracture, and potassium (found in sweet potatoes, beans and plantains) may be correlated to higher bone mineral density (Orchard et al, 2015; Weber, 2001). Mushrooms, which convert cholesterol into active Vitamin D, may improve bone density (Chen et al., 2015).
Vibration training consists of exercises such as squats, single leg squats, calf raises, performed on a vibrating platform. There is controversy as to whether this type of training is safe or effective for older adults with osteoporosis. However, some studies have suggested that those who perform whole body vibration training regularly may prevent bone loss in the spine and femur. This type of training may be more appropriate in the prevention of osteoporosis, rather than to improve bone density in those who are already diagnosed (Verschueren et al. 2004).
Strength and Weight Bearing:
Weight bearing activities such as walking should be performed up to 150 mins per week, 5 days a week. Beginners should start slowly, working up to moderate intensity. Those with a higher risk of fracture should avoid high impact such as hopping, jumping, running, or activities with a high risk of falls. Sports with twisting movements may also be inappropriate. Yoga and Pilates may also be risky unless they are specially adapted by a professional trained in osteoporosis safe exercise.
Current recommendations for exercise include resistance training for all major muscle groups, in order to slow the rate of bone loss in those who have osteoporosis.
Here are two strengthening exercises which may be modified for most levels:
Standing Wall Push Up: Standing at arm’s length from a wall, extend your arms so your hands are flat on the wall at shoulder height, with your thumbs touching each other. Inhale and, in one movement, press your body toward the wall as if doing a push-up. Exhale and push back to the original position, keeping your elbows close to your sides throughout.
Modified Sit to Stand: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, facing away from a heavy and stable chair of normal height. Without using your arms, slowly lower yourself into the seat so that you are sitting. To stand up, place your heels directly under your knees, pushing through your heels while leaning forward and standing. Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times. For those who have difficulty getting out of a chair, place an extra cushion to raise the seat height so that you can perform this exercise. Remove seat cushion as the exercise becomes easier, until you can perform the move at the regular seat height.