Have you noticed the commercials about medication for bone loss? Maybe I’m noticing more as I am in my 50s. Many don’t think a great deal about bone loss until something breaks! I know this was the case with a relative. After breaking her leg, she learned she had osteoporosis. The latest statistics show that over 700,000 spinal fractures and over 300,000 hip fractures occur annually in the United States due to osteoporosis. Yes, men can get it too! In honor of World Osteoporosis Day on October 20, I wanted to share more about this topic.
Why does this happen as we get older? Well, I’m always marveled at the body. It continues to reabsorb existing bone and create new during our lifetime. In fact, our entire skeleton is replaced every decade! Like everything…it’s all about balance. Bone loss takes place when our existing bone is reabsorbed but our new bone isn’t being created fast enough. Women over 50 are at risk more simply because of a decrease in estrogen due to menopause. For men, there is a decrease in testosterone and the risk for osteoporosis increases after age 70. Of course, these are simply averages. If a woman goes through menopause sooner, her risk for osteoporosis is greater. There is something that can be done and it has nothing to do with hormone replacement therapy.
Weight-bearing exercises can assist in building bone mass and we often think of using hand weights/dumbbells, machines or other equipment. These exercises are great, but now we know that yoga can help our bones too.
I’m a yogi and I’ve had people ask me how often I do strength training. I like to mix it up. I weave my life around strength training. It may come in the form of lifting hand weights in a class once or twice a week, but my real secret weapon is yoga. I do some form of yoga ~4 days a week. Yoga provides strength for my entire body, flexibility, balance and peace of mind. Yoga can be everywhere I go. I just need my body weight (and a mat is also helpful but not always necessary). These strength training exercises allow me to perform my daily life activities such as lifting groceries, carrying 50-pound bags of dog food, lifting soil when I garden and hauling logs when a tree falls across our driveway (which happens more than you think).
Let’s look closer. There was a ten-year study performed by Dr. Loren Fishman which involved 12 yoga poses that were weight-bearing and strength building. Over 700 participants were involved and they were asked to perform a simple 12-minute yoga routine daily holding poses on each side for 30 seconds. Before the study, these individuals were either diagnosed with osteopenia (bones are weaker than normal but haven’t broken due to bone loss) or osteoporosis or were at risk.
At the end of the study, this group saw a significant improvement in bone density in both the spine and femur. Approximately 83% of this group had osteopenia or osteoporosis when they began the study. Dr. Fishman indicates that yoga puts more pressure on the bones than gravity does. By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes which are the bone-making cells.
This is great news, especially if you’re at risk for developing any type of bone loss. Although prescription medications can assist, they often come with gastrointestinal problems or other side effects. This is a great alternative and you shouldn’t wait until you have a diagnosis to begin. By doing so, you’ll be stronger, have better balance, better posture and a sense of well-being.
You may be asking how safe is yoga? Always check with your health care provider before beginning any exercise practice, but know that Dr. Fishman indicates that it appears that yoga is safe for individuals with osteoporosis. You do need to make sure that you are participating in poses that are deemed safe and the 12 they selected for the study seem to be. Please make sure that you work with a yoga practitioner who is knowledgeable in regards to bone loss and appropriate poses. Hopefully, we’ll see more studies like this in the future.
To discover which poses assist bone health and learn more about the study, visit the links below.
• 12 Minutes of Yoga for Bone Health
• Yoga for Osteoporosis: A Pilot Study
• Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss