Taking care of our bones: Yoga and Pilates for Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis effects over 200 million people worldwide, with 1 in 3 women post menopausal women living with the condition, brought on by the decline in oestrogen levels during menopause.  One in 8 men live the condition, exacerbated later in life around the age of 70 when their testosterone levels drop.

Osteoporosis occurs when too much old bone is broken down or too little new bone is formed, or both.  Contrary to most peoples understanding, our skeleton is very much alive, constantly breaking down and renewing itself in a process called ‘remodelling’.  Remodelling is driven by the amount of calcium stored in the bones, our hormones, Vitamin D levels and exercise.

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Prevention begins in our early years, with healthy nutrition and exercise habits. Although we can't replace our bone mass when it begins to diminish, we can maintain the mass we have by strengthening our bones with exercise so it’s not all doom and gloom.  Alongside exercise and good nutrition, there is emerging evidence that vitamin D is beneficial in increasing bone strength. Tests have shown that after menopause, women who exercise have up to 1 percent greater bone density compared to control groups who did not exercise and also lost 2 to 3 percent of bone mass.

Yoga and pilates are hugely beneficial for people with osteoporosis as besides building bone strength, they strengthen the muscles and cultivate good balance which is essential as we age.  Osteporosis itself is painless, it is the risk of falling that poses threat.  In the event of a fall, the weakened bones are more likely to fracture due to their weakened state. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, one in 3 women and one in 5 men with the condition will suffer a fracture during their lifetime. 

To avoid injury, people with osteoporosis should work individually with a yoga or pilates instructor with specialized training until they are confident of what they can and can’t do in class. Proper alignment in poses maximizes the bone's ability to resist any applied force, making good instruction and awareness critical in reducing the risk of fracture and keeping the spine neutral by bending the knees in poses such as downward facing dog.

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Poses that counteract the rounding of the upper spine such as baby cobra pose and locust pose. Make sure to incorporate some restorative poses into your routine to activate the relaxation response and shift from the dominant sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.  Activating the relaxation response can promote a better ratio of old bone being broken down to new bone being built.

 Since weight-bearing exercise has been shown to strengthen bone postures that utilise the upper body and moving the body against gravity, such as plank, side Plank and Half moon pose with the support of the wall are good options.  Chair pose is also a safe and excellent option for strengthening the whole body. 

Pilates, with its focus on posture, alignment and balance as well as full body integrated movements, offers a fantastic platform when combined with other functional exercise.An osteoporosis-prevention pilates program needs to include sufficient back strengthening as well as hip and wrist strengthening exercises. Upper back strength has been shown to improve balance and reduce the risk of falls, the main cause of concern with the condition. 

And, of course, core control is integral to all movement which making pilates an excellent choice for us all as we age, especially those with conditions such as this.