According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, an estimated 200,000,000 women worldwide suffer from osteoporosis, and that there is an osteoporosis-related hip fracture every 3 seconds. They had heaps of other terrifying statistics HERE if you care to read a bit more. I went to see the movie, It, yesterday, and trust me, this is much scarier. I see the effects of osteoporosis every day in my own mother, who used to be taller than I am, and now she isn’t. It’s a strange feeling, I can tell you!
What Is Osteoporosis, Anyway?
Well, it’s basically a weakening of the bones, that can lead to things like back problems and a tendency to fracture bones terribly easily.
When I was studying health science at university a few years ago we had a great lecture on how bones actually form, and it’s a fascinating topic, if somewhat riddled with long and confusing words. The short, short version is that bones develop from childhood into early adulthood, building up more and more, and tend to peak in density in early adulthood. After this, my friends, it’s all downhill from here on in. If you are interested in the long and confusing words (and they are very interesting) you can read a bit more about the whole process HERE or you can watch this excellent video produced by Amgen:
After peak bone density, the process of bone building kind of reverses – more is absorbed out than gets rebuilt. As all the meaty, bony goodness is used up, you’re left with much weaker and more brittle bones. It sucks, really.
Risk Factors For Osteoporosis
Obviously age is a major factor, as I’ve said above, but there are also things like gender (women are more likely to be affected than men, thanks to those pesky hormones), over-indulging (it’s suggested that too much alcohol and /or tobacco can be a factor), low calcium and vitamin D (required to absorb calcium) are all possible risk factors. So are some medical conditions or medications, leading a very sedentary lifestyle and body type (smaller folks have less bone to lose!).
How Can Weight Training Combat Osteoporosis?
Well, now we get to the point of this whole depressing issue. Yes, yes you CAN do something right now to seriously reduce your risk of getting brittler, stooped and shorter. You can pump some iron!
No, you don’t have aim for an Arnie-circa-1980 physique, but in order to really push your bones to the limit, you need to lift weights heavy enough to be challenging. Note – always start out supervised by a qualified fitness professional, ok? ALWAYS!
There is, of course, a perfectly valid scientific reason for this, I promise I’m not just messing with you. Basically, going back to that terribly educational video up top, lifting reasonably heavy weights puts stress on your bones, which gets those little osteoblasts (the ones that build bone) all fired up again, giving the osteoclasts (the bone-sucking leeches) a run for their money. In essence, it helps to build bone up again, thereby making your bones denser and stronger.
It is never too early to start with weight / resistance training, as it makes a lot of sense to approach middle age with a good build up of bone density to begin with, but even if that ship has sailed for you, you can still make a difference. Ask a qualified personal trainer to work with you to put together a custom plan for you that includes weight / resistance training. Don’t forget to include cardio aspects, as well as stuff to keep you limber, supple and stretchy, too. Personally, I love swimming to get started, when I’m not quite ready to hit the gym. It’s a full body workout and gets your heart pumping, without being overly hurty on weak and feeble joints and muscles, like my own. My gorgeous friend, Lara, teaches fun yet challenging Konga fitness classes for women, you can read her story HERE.
Another thing to consider is your calcium intake – check with your doctor if you’re worried that your diet might be lacking in natural sources of calcium and whether or not you should consider taking a supplement. Yes, I said “your doctor”, as supplements can potentially cause great harm if misused, and I’m of the belief that any use should always be medically supervised.
Image is via this AWESOME article on Fitness Success After 40, by Sue Wilkerson, definitely check it out
Very Important Disclaimers
- I am not a qualified doctor, physiotherapist or similarly qualified industry professional. I have, however studied health science at university level, and nearly completed a personal training course. Spot the irony here – I couldn’t finish it because my back was too stuffed to do a lot of the exercises that I was required to demonstrate with perfect technique, sigh. I have also read extensively on the topic and am, by nature, a nit-picky skeptic who refuses to believe anything unless there is a multitude of peer-reviewed and published articles backing up the claim.
- This post is intended to be general information only, is not medical advice. Always, ALWAYS do your own research. If I’ve piqued your interest enough to get you to look into this further, I’ll be very happy. All of the sources I used to write this general information are from reputable sources such as osteoporosis foundations / organisations, government health organisations and that sort of thing. Also, my university textbook, which must be right, because it cost nearly $400.
- Do NOT start any sort of fitness or health regimen without first contacting your primary health provider and getting the green light.
- If you are unfit, have medical conditions, or are in any other way in less than peak health and are already familiar with gym equipment, do NOT start a fitness program without being fully supervised by a QUALIFIED personal trainer / physio or other industry professional.
- If you are not sure about anything I’ve said here, don’t believe me, not sure if you believe me, are worried about ending up looking like Arnie-circa-1980 then please, please, for the love of all things decent, consult your medical professional.
Happy Pumping, and do be sure to let me know in the comments below if you’re already into weight training, or are living with osteoporosis.