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Bone Health Series – Weight Bearing Exercise for Osteoporosis Prevention

What is osteoporosis

Unlike other medical conditions, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hadn’t heard of osteoporosis. It affects so many people and as our population gets older, it will affect even more.

Osteoporosis is when a person’s bone density is significantly decreased and they either have fractures or are at high risk for fractures as a result. The moderate version of the condition is osteopenia. Think of it as something similar to pre-diabetes.

What’s age got to do with it

Your bones are comprised of living tissue that makes a network or scaffold. Calcium and phosphorus are deposited into the bone and make it rigid and strong. When you’re young, your body adds minerals to the bones and they become very strong. Over time, the density of the bone minerals goes down and the bones eventually become brittle.

Bone mineral density peaks when we’re very young: in our 20’s! After that, we steadily lose the structure and strength of our bones. Once women reach menopause, the rate of loss increases.

Bones and motherhood

Most people know that post-menopausal women are most likely to have osteoporosis. But did you know that women are affected by this condition for other reasons as well?

When we’re pregnant, our babies remove nutrients from our reserves, including calcium. It’s taken out of the bones and into the bloodstream, where it can travel to the fetus and fuel its growth. A woman’s body does amazing things to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, including bringing its calcium stores back to normal.

However, this recovery takes time. Having children in quick succession increases the risk for osteoporosis later in life and it’s important to keep in mind when we’re thinking about targeted prevention strategies. If you have had children with small age gaps, talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about improving your bone mineral density.

What is weight bearing exercise

When we talk about weight bearing exercise, the things that come to mind are walking, jogging, aerobics/Zumba, etc. These are fantastic for bone health but as you’ll see, they’re not the only weight bearing exercises out there!

For bone health, “weight bearing” means that we’re putting stress on the bone. This could be from pushing (think of a bone getting pushed from the bottom as your foot strikes the ground) or pulling (muscles tugging on bones).

With this concept in our minds, we can start to get creative about exercises that increase bone density. The more stress you put on the bone, the more it will adapt to make itself stronger by depositing minerals.

Is walking enough

Walking is great exercise for bones, for the heart, and for the mind. I walk my dog 2-3 hours each day and it’s my main form of exercise.

But… For bone health, it’s not enough. One of the most common fracture sites in osteoporosis is the wrist. When someone falls and puts out a hand, the wrist has to withstand that impact. So what beefs up the bones in the upper body?

  1. Gripping. We see this in gardening, woodworking, housecleaning, and weightlifting.
  2. Pushups. I don’t do a lot of them myself, but some people love them so I say go for it!
  3. Resistance bands. You know those colourful elastic bands that you got from your physiotherapist and threw in a drawer somewhere? They’re really handy on vacations and work trips because they don’t take up almost any room in your luggage!
  4. Rowing and racquet sports, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing (with poles).
  5. Walking/hiking poles. Multitasking!

Bottom line

Start early (in your 20’s) and put some serious stress on your skeleton! When we’re talking about bone mineral density, it’s a matter of “use it or lose it.”

Do you have bone health tips and stories? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

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