Did you know in 10 years your skeleton will be completely rebuilt? Pretty amazing right? Most of us don’t realize it but our bones are alive, and constantly under construction. In this post we’ll review what bones need to stay healthy, what osteoporosis is, and give you a new way to think about your bone health!
Some Basics about Bones
Demolition cells called osteoclasts and and construction cells called osteoblasts are the workers responsible for this lifelong work in progress. The titter-totter of these two workers is influenced by three main factors.
- The raw materials needed: Nutrition (Essential vitamins, minerals, and protein)
- The foreman to keep things moving: Hormones (Control the rate of bone remodeling)
- The demand for new construction: Activity (You read that right. Much like muscles, your bones need to be challenged to grow!)
So what is Osteoporosis?
Now we know the factors that influence bone growth, osteoporosis is the result of what happens when one or more of those factors are not in balance. Osteoporosis does not happen overnight and is a gradual condition where the bone building is slower than bone dissolving over time.
As you can see the inside of healthy bone looks like a bee hive’s honeycomb. As osteoporosis worsens the air spaces become enlarged as shown in the picture. With increasing air spaces, your bones are weakened from the inside out and are at greater risk of breaking.
How Common is Osteoporosis?
- Most of us reach peak bone density as early as age 30
- Almost 1 in 10 adults over 50 have osteoporosis, with that number increasing every 10 years
- While both men and women can develop osteoporosis, women are more likely to develop the serious complications of osteoporosis (broken bones)
- Women lose up to 20% of their bone mass in the first 5 – 7 years after menopause. Developing dense bone prior to menopause is key.
- Certain medications such as corticosteroids (commonly prescribed for asthma and chronic inflammation) can increase your risk of osteoporosis.
Why is Osteoporosis Such a Problem?
Even with our advancements in nutrition and hormone therapies, the number of those developing osteoporosis continues to rise year after year. Unfortunately you cannot feel your bones getting weaker, this has led some to call osteoporosis a “silent disease”. The most serious complication osteoporosis sufferers face is a broken hip often from a seemingly minor fall. The problems associated with a broken hip are far reaching, worst of all is the decrease in life expectancy after the break. Many modifiable factors are at play when someone falls including eye sight, hearing, and most commonly poor balance.
Osteoporosis as a Side Effect of Muscle Loss
So why are so many men and specifically women at risk of broken bones from minor falls? Would you believe that it is due in part to an iron deficiency? Probably not the iron deficiency that you are thinking of, but a deficiency in pumping iron! Cheesy weight lifting joke I know, but muscle loss and bone loss are closely connected. As we lose muscle we become less stable and are at a greater risk of a fall. By limiting muscle loss we can increase stability at the same time as we increase bone strength.
Our bones are recycled in a predictable way and are kept in balance when the proper hormones, nutrition, and most importantly stressors are applied. If we aren’t frequently applying stress to our bodies (pushing, pulling, twisting, and compressing) our bones (and muscles) are not receiving the input that they need to build new bone (and new muscle). If we don’t use it, we lose it!
What You Can do Today
Regular weight-bearing exercise is the best form of exercise for your bones. Changes that are related to osteoporosis can be prevented, challenged, or reduced with proper programs. Walking and water aerobics are great forms of low impact cardiovascular exercise (good for the heart), unfortunately these types of exercise do not place enough stress on the bones to maintain bone density. How are the right exercises for you?* The National Osteoporosis Society created a great starting resource, Exercise and Osteoporosis. If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you will need to be aware that depending on the stage of the condition vigorous, high impact exercise is generally not advised.
*Disclaimer- I wholeheartedly support the choice to increase your activity levels if you are ready to make a change, and I hope this blog motivates many people to make that same choice. However, it is important to note that you may have some limitations concerning what type(s) of exercise you can do based on current or past health issues. You should always consult with your physician prior to starting a new exercise program to ensure you are healthy enough to meet the increased demands placed on your body.