May is Osteoporosis Awareness month! Join me in the National Osteoporosis Foundation Jumping Jack Challenge: If your bones and joints are healthy, join the challenge to do 10 jumping jacks in under 10 seconds.  Watch me here. (If you have osteoporosis, just do the “Step-Jack” instead, eliminating the jump and stepping one leg at a time to the side).

Osteoporosis, literally “porous bones,” is a disease that causes bone to lose density, becoming weaker and more vulnerable to fracture.  Women are affected in greater numbers than men – in fact 80% of the 10 million Americans who have it are women.  Midlife is a critical time for women to be concerned about their bone health.  During and immediately following menopause, there is a period of rapid bone loss that can last five to seven years.

Known as a “pediatric disease with a geriatric face,” the prevention of osteoporosis begins with optimal bone growth during childhood and adolescence.  It’s estimated that a 10% increase of peak bone mass in children reduces the risk of an osteoporotic fracture by 50% during adult life.  Your peak bone mass – the most bone that you’ll have in your lifetime- is established by the time you’re 30.  After this, bone-thinning is a natural process and cannot be completely prevented.  The thicker your bones, the less likely they are to become porous enough to break.

Bones play an important role in providing structure to our bodies, protecting our organs, moving our joints and storing calcium. Bones are made from living tissue which renews itself continuously throughout our lives.  If your skeleton is to remain strong it needs stimulation from physical activity, without which bones can weaken just as muscles do if not used regularly, as well as adequate calcium and Vitamin D.

Exercise helps conserve bone, offset bone loss, and prevent falls and fractures. The two types of exercise important for building and maintaining bone density are weight-bearing and muscle strengthening.

  • Weight-bearing exercises: Anytime you are standing (weight-bearing), you are resisting the force of gravity, which places positive stress on the bones.  Do a variety of brief, frequent bouts every day in normal activities like walking and climbing stairs to maintain their strength.  Choose cardio exercises like fast walking, jogging, hiking, dancing and the elliptical where you are on your feet. Add high intensity intervals to your usual steady-pace workout.
  • Muscle strengthening, or resistance exercises, causes the muscles to exert force on the bones, which strengthens them at the same time as the muscles are getting stronger. Do exercises for all the major muscle groups (legs, back, chest, shoulders, arms and core) to stimulate bones throughout the skeleton. Lift as heavy a weight as you can while maintaining good form.

A bone density test will help you tailor your exercise program by showing which, if any, areas are at reduced bone density – your spine, hips or wrist.  This will help determine the exercise selection and intensity of your program.  An exercise program for people with osteoporosis should include posture, balance, gait, coordination and trunk stabilization as well as strength training and weight-bearing cardio.  Be sure to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning an exercise program or becoming much more physically active.