Holly Clarkson and Sian Smith explain…
In medical terms the strength of our bones is worked out based on bone mineral density or BMD for short. The higher the BMD, the denser the bone, and the stronger it is. You could think of high BMD as being like the thick foam of a memory foam mattress and low BMD as being more like a sponge you might use in the shower. Osteoporosis is the term used for bones which have a very low mineral density, when compared to those of a younger individual and someone who is the same age as you.
From birth, up to the age of around 30, our bones gradually increase in their density provided we have enough nutrition, daylight, natural hormones and exercise. After the age of around 30 our bodies increase BMD at a far lower rate so it’s important to do everything we can up to this age to ensure our bones are as strong as possible.
The bone density effort doesn’t stop at aged 30! Although we’re no longer laying down bone in the same way we still need to maintain what we have. The most effective things you can do are to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, reduce alcohol consumption and give up smoking. Your GP may also advise you to take supplements including vitamin D and calcium.
Exercise shouldn’t stop because it’s cold
Continuing exercise through the winter months is important for bone health. You can't always prevent a fall, but you can make sure your bones are as resilient as possible. However, for optimal results, a variety of exercises are needed. Sian Smith has some advice about how to do this…
Measures taken in our younger years define the health of our bones when we are older. Any weight-bearing exercise (e.g. running/dancing) before 30 will be instrumental in ensuring our bones are as strong as possible. However, that doesn’t mean any attempts at building bone strength after this age are futile – we can still encourage the bone to lay down new tissue, healing any breaks and preventing the progression of osteopenia (the pre-cursor to osteoporosis). However, past middle age and particularly for post-menopausal women there is a need for an increased focus on weight-training and strengthening work.
How much exercise is enough though?
Guidelines for the amount of exercise you should do according to your age group are as follows;
- 5-18 years – 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercises every day
- 19-64 years – 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly, plus strengthening exercises 2 days per week.
- 65 years + - 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week (e.g. walking/cycling) and strengthening exercises 2 days per week
Great types of weight bearing exercises are walking, jogging and dancing, and are preferable to swimming and cycling which are low impact but good for increasing cardiovascular fitness.
It is also essential to work on strengthening muscles as this increased loading to the bone also encourages more bone density. These can involve lifting free weights or doing floor exercises using your body’ weight to build bone. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it is worth focusing on the most affected sites for osteoporosis – the spine, hips and wrists.
Simple ways to affect these areas are:
- Wrist curls - Place a light weight (no more than 5kg) in your hand. Bend the elbow, resting your arm on your knee. Curl your fingers and wrists up, squeezing the forearm muscles. Repeat 10-15 times each side.
- Hips – Any exercise involving the heel striking the ground firmly. The simplest type to suit all abilities is a ‘marching walk’. Simply march on the spot, ensuring you place as much force as possible through the heel. 2-3 minutes daily.
- Neck lift/leg lifts. These are effective for strengthening the spinal extensors and glute muscles and will also prevent excessive rounding of the spine. For the neck lift, raise your head and shoulders off the floor, focusing on the keeping the neck long (don’t look up) and feeling the contraction in the middle of the back. For the leg lift, support your forehead with your hands and raise one leg at a time, feeling the contraction in the buttock and lower back. Do 10-20 each side.
As we age, our sense of balance can start to diminish, which can unfortunately increase our chance of falling. The best types of exercises to improve balance are yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates. Pilates is particularly beneficial due to its primary focus on strengthening the core muscles – the deep abdominal, spinal and pelvic muscles. Strong core muscles help to absorb the shock from everyday movements and encourage fluid coordination and movement between the upper and lower limbs.
Two great Pilates based exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups are:
- The Bridge – This is excellent for engaging the transversus abdominus and glute muscles; both essential for providing stability to the trunk. Lay on the floor with knees bent and lift pelvis up towards the ceiling, squeezing the buttock muscles. 20-30 reps.
- The Clam – This is essential for firing your glutes and hip stabilisers. Lay on your side, with both knees bent. Keep both feet together and separate your knees, making sure you squeeze the top glute muscle. Repeat 15-20 each side.
Strengthening exercises taken from here and balance exercises taken from here.