You want to avoid another fracture and all the pain and loss of independence, but opting for a sedentary lifestyle isn’t the answer to protect your bones. Just the opposite—exercise is one of the best ways to preserve your bone density and prevent falls as you age. Exercise can reduce your risk of fracturing in two ways: It helps you build and maintain bone density and enhances your balance, flexibility and strength, all of which reduce your chance of falling. What’s more, staying physically active also reduces your risk of heart disease, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes, helps guard against high blood pressure, obesity, and mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and protects men from prostate cancer and women from breast cancer.
Here’s how to understand the connection: Bone is a living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Just as a muscle gets stronger and bigger with use, a bone becomes stronger and denser when it is called on to bear weight Actually, two types of exercise in particular are important for building and maintaining bone density: weight-bearing and resistance exercises. Weight-bearing exercises are those in which your bones and muscles work against gravity—activities you do in an upright position. Examples include walking, climbing stairs, dancing and playing tennis. Resistance exercises are those that use muscular strength to improve muscle mass and strengthen bone. The best example of a resistance exercise is weight training, with either hand-held weights or weight machines.
You can also significantly reduce your risk of falling with activities that enhance your balance, flexibility and strength:
- Balance is the ability to maintain stability while moving or standing still. Improve your balance with activities such as tai chi and yoga.
- Flexibility refers to the range of motion of a muscle or group of muscles. You can improve your flexibility through tai chi and yoga as well as other forms of gentle stretching exercises and swimming (a non-weight bearing yet aerobic exercise).
- Strength refers to your body’s ability to develop and maintain strong muscles. Lifting weights will increase your strength.
Keep in mind that exercise includes fun activities that you might not associate with hard work, like dancing and gardening. You do, however, need to choose your activities carefully. Work with your doctor or osteoporosis specialist to choose the best options for you. You’ll want to avoid activities with a high risk of falling, such as skiing or skating, those that are high-impact, such as running and jumping rope, and those that involve twisting and bending, like golf.
By practicing proper posture and learning the correct way to move, you can protect your bones while remaining physically active. Almost every activity can be adapted to meet your age, ability, lifestyle and strength, and your doctor or a physical therapist can help you design a safe and effective exercise program. Here are general tips for safer exercise:
- Pay attention to proper posture—lift your breastbone, keep your head erect, eyes forward, your shoulders back (lightly pinch your shoulder blades) and tighten your tummy and butt muscles
- Use a handrail when climbing stairs
- Bend from the hips and knees and never from the waist, especially when lifting
- Consult your doctor before starting on any exercise program
- Don’t wear shoes with slippery soles
- Don’t slouch when standing, walking or sitting at a desk
- Don’t move too quickly
One of the best ways to create overall strength, good posture and better balance is by strengthening what’s called your “core,” the muscles in the center of your body—abs, back and obliques. Fitness authority Dr. Karl Knopf, author of many books aimed at people over age 50, has just published his latest book, Core Strength for 50+: A Customized Program for Safely Toning Ab, Back, and Oblique Muscles. In it he details eight programs with over 75 exercises designed to improve posture, prevent low back issues, boost in physical activities and avoid injuries. The exercises allow you to choose your own mix of equipment-free moves done on an exercise mat and those that use a stability ball or resistance/stretching strap.
Next up: In Part V of this series, you’ll learn about taking how simple safety steps in your home will reduce your repeat fracture risk.