Bone health – sounds like serious business doesn’t it? There’s no reason to pay our bones too much attention unless we break one, is there? This month’s article is looking at:
(and if you’re wondering “is this relevant to me?” – yes, read on!)
And relating this to both the recent revised recommendations for osteoporosis (what’s osteoporosis? See below) and why we all should and how we all can maintain or improve our bone health.
The one big factor that describes how healthy your bones are is:
Healthy bone density can be explained as mass per volume i.e. if you have two bones of identical size and one weighs less than the other, the lighter bone is less dense.
Because the number one cause of a decrease in bone density is the wonderful and natural process of
And the less dense our bones are, the more at risk we are of bone fractures and the many detrimental and often life-threatening problems that can occur as a result. As we will ALL be beneficiaries of advancing years, we ALL need to look after our bones.
Bone density can be measured – usually via a DEXA (type of x-ray) scan. If bone density is deemed to be ‘too low’ this can lead to a diagnosis of the condition ‘osteoporosis’.
Osteoporosis: A condition that occurs when bone mineral density is low, causing weakened and fragile bones that are more likely to break.NHS definition
Ageing, as mentioned above. Some people do however lose bone density more quickly than others. Women are more at risk that men (men you’re not immune) and post-menopausal women are more at risk again. Certain medical conditions, family history, long-term steroid use, having a low body-mass index (being underweight) poor diet, not enough exercise and heavy drinking and smoking are also all risk factors for developing osteoporosis.
Realising that you have low bone density can come as a nasty surprise as you’re unlikely to know that you have osteoporosis or more fragile bones until you break a bone; there aren’t any other warning signs.
Wake-up facts: One in three 65+ year old’s have had a fall and fragility fractures (a trauma that shouldn’t result in a broken bone but does because the bone is fragile) cost the NHS £4.4billion per year.
Osteoporosis is treatable with the winning combination of doctors wielding buckets plaster-of-Paris, medication and supplements. If you’ve had a bone scan and know that you have osteoporosis or are at risk, speak to your GP.
On a hugely positive note, we can ALL maintain and even IMPROVE bone density.
The biggie treatment/prevention plan that we can all apply regardless of the state of our bones is lifestyle factors. And the most effective of these is:
Exercise is essential for bone health for the following reasons:
In an attempt to prevent broken bones there has historically often been a fearful ‘don’t do’ attitude to the advice doled out for osteoporosis. However the emphasis has now shifted to:
Strong, Steady and Straight: An expert consensus statement on physical activity and exercise for osteoporosis
Well done! And I’ve no desire to put you off now by forcing you to trawl through a catalogue of exercises, wondering which is the right one for you! So instead I offer the three cornerstones for bone health and just three moves to try. They are all modifiable to suit; find the level that suits you and remember that if you need a hand or advice then there’s a Physiotherapy clinic at Hebden Bridge Town Hall.
For strength: do weight-bearing, impact and resistance exercise. Walking, running, dancing, exercise classes, jumping, weight-training using weights/resistance-machines or just body weight e.g. wall press-ups or floor press-ups if up to it. Remember that you don’t have to go to a gym to do strength work; a few simple exercises at home can be enough and there are myriad sports and pastimes out there – wall-building, gardening, climbing, skipping, scrambling, sailing, boxing – which will help build strength.
The STRONG LUNGE
Stand with one foot in front of you and the other behind, feet hip width apart. Bend both knees to lower your whole pelvis and upper body vertically downwards towards floor, just as far as you are comfortable and no further, trying to keep forward knee behind toes. Squeeze your butt and thighs to drive you back to the start and repeat. If need be rest a hand or two on a surface for balance.
What’s your balance like? Can you comfortably stand on one leg? Can you recover from a trip without falling over? The steady component is about having good balance and stability to avoid falls, giving you confidence in movement and empowering you to do more!
The STEADY STORK
Stand on one leg! If need be place a hand on a surface for just as much support as you need and aid balance by squeezing your bottom and thigh muscles on the stance leg and gently press downwards through your big toe. And then challenge yourself: How long can you balance for? What happens if you close your eyes? Can you go up onto tip-toes and back down again whilst maintaining balance? Have a little lean from side to side to challenge. A little wobbling is fine, in fact it’s a good thing as it shows that your body is trying, working and learning.
This is about the strength of back muscles – important for good posture and reducing pain. Bending forward can’t be avoided some of the time but we can learn how to bend properly using our leg and pelvis muscles as well as our back muscles and we can strengthen the muscles around our back to better support this movement.
The STRAIGHT BACK
Lie on your front, arms by sides. Steadily raise your head, then upper chest from the floor, working through to lower chest raised if you can, just as far as if comfortable. Keep your neck ‘long’ by looking at the floor directly beneath your face. If this position is manageable then raise arms towards ceiling. And if this is manageable, at the same time squeeze your legs together and if you can slightly raise your legs from floor. Breathe(!) and hold for 2/5/10 seconds.
Any change in exercise levels should be introduced gradually and according to your ability and experience. If you’re going to start something new, start at an easy-feeling level and do it for just a short period of time. I want to say ‘e.g.’ here but everyone’s ‘e.g.’ will be different! I’ll use the ‘Couch to 5k’ as an example:
The Couch to 5k running programme advocates starting your running in week one with a 5 minute walk, followed by 60secs of running alternated with 90secs of walking, for 20 minutes. So if you haven’t run ever/for an age, you start by running for just 8 minutes, 3 times in a week.
Not much is it? But this is how we strengthen and get fitter without overdoing it and injuring ourselves in the process.
So look after those bones and drop me a line if you’ve any queries re getting stronger, steadier and straighter!