A diagnosis of osteoporosis can be scary. Learning that you have had a silent deterioration of bone density that has left you at higher risk of fracture, pain and disability is understandably unsettling. However, even with a diagnosis of osteoporosis (or osteopenia, a milder form), you can take many positive steps to take control of your physical health again.
There are a lot of factors that determine the best medical management of osteoporosis for each person. It’s important to consult with your family physician or specialist to discuss the options that are appropriate for you, including medication, supplements, diet changes, etc. Starting or continuing the right forms of physical activity can have a substantial impact on maintaining your bone density, decreasing your risk of future fracture and disability.
If you have a diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis and are planning to change your level or type of physical activity, I recommend talking to your physiotherapist or other health-care provider about which of the following recommendations from Osteoporosis Canada are suitable for you.
Doing resisted exercises using weights, bands or your body weight not only increases your muscle strength, but also helps your bones maintain their density. Bones grow stronger in response to being loaded this way.
Weight-bearing cardiovascular exercise is recommended in bouts of 10 minutes or more for approximately 150 minutes per week. Walking, cycling and rowing all meet these criteria. Swimming, although a great aerobic exercise, does not provide the weight-bearing aspect that is particularly helpful for maintaining bone density.
Spinal fractures are often associated with forward bend and rotation of the spine. Increasing the strength of your postural muscles helps to reduce these forces throughout your activities of daily living, therefore reducing your risk of spinal fracture. Improving your posture also contributes to decreased neck, shoulder and lower back pain.
It’s particularly important for people with osteoporosis to maximize their balance to minimize the chance of falling and sustaining a fracture. Strengthening exercises for your leg and core muscles will help, but you also need to do some specific work that challenges your balance. There are a variety of positions and tasks that a physiotherapist can teach you to improve your balance. Additionally, practising tai chi has been shown to be particularly effective in improving balance.
It’s important to review these four types of exercise with a physiotherapist to develop an individualized plan for activity that is appropriate for you. Guidance as you begin a new exercise routine limits the likelihood of injury related to your osteoporosis and also reduces the likelihood of other injury due to over-training or errors in technique.
Safe participation in exercise is a great way to increase your confidence and safety in movement. With increased confidence in your mobility, you can continue to do many of the things you love, despite a diagnosis of osteoporosis.