Osteoporosis is more commonly known as “Brittle Bone Disease”. It is a degenerative bone disease and it affects many thousands every year. In Britain alone there are around 60,000 osteoporotic hip fractures every year, and of those around 15 – 20% will die within a year from a cause related to the fracture.
If you looked at the inside of a healthy bone, you would see that it is made up of tiny holes, giving the appearance of a honeycomb. In a bone with osteoporosis these tiny holes will have started to break down and larger holes are created so causing the bone to loss its strength.
The bones are maintained by three different types of bone cells. They are
Osteoclasts which remove bone tissue.
Osteoblasts which create new bone cells
Osteocytes which just keep the whole process going.
Brittle bones then occurs when the osteoclast cells work harder, creating more gaps in the honeycomb than the osteoblasts are able to fill.
As a result of this there can be a significant loss of height and also the spine can become misaligned. The high risk fracture sites for some with this disease are the wrist, hips, ankles, shoulder, and back.
The risk factors which can lead to Osteoporosis are:
. lack of activity
. dietary, low calcium intake
. excessive alcohol consumption
. low body weight
. drugs, including prolonged use of steroids
. family history (mother with the disease)
From the above you will see that some of these risk factors we are able to influence whereas, family history and gender we cannot.
In the teenage years, bone strength is boosted by foods containing calcium, vitamin D and regular weight bearing exercise. Bones will reach a peak density during the 20s and after that period of time, depending on how well we treat our bodies, will begin to decline each year.
It is therefore vital to ensure that the young gain as much bone health as possible through weight bearing exercise and a proper diet. It is therefore worrying to now see that many young people do not now take regular exercise. Often are sitting playing video games, smoking as well as eating junk food.
Being an active person, especially from a young age can reduce the risk of osteoporosis by as much a 50%. Weight bearing activity stresses the bone, so activities such as running, jumping, skipping, brisk walking and body weight exercises all help increase bone density in adolescents. It is therefore vital to start exercising as early in life as possible and to maintain this activity as we age, so as to slow down the rate of decline in the bone as we enter old age.
It is worth noting that some activities do not improve the density of the bone. These are exercises where the body weight is supported, such as swimming and cycling. Whilst both of these are excellent at keeping the body fit and healthy and are to be encouraged, it is therefore important to do a range of activities which will challenge and promote good health and fitness for the entire body.
Women after the menopause may experience a greater increase in the loss of bone density due to the lack of oestrogen and can result in bone losses of 5% per year. It is also worth noting that men are also at risk of this disease, it is not predominately just females that suffer from it.
Physical activity in later life may delay the rate at which this disease progresses, but unfortunately it cannot reverse what has already taken place. Keeping fit and active into old age will help maintain good balance, this will in turn result in less falls, which will then lessen the risk of fractures.
Research has shown that those who do fall, it is often due to poor balance and muscle weakness. A study which looked at previously inactive women aged 65-75 who did 20 weeks of twice weekly exercise training, improved their dynamic balance and strength.
The message is clear do not give up your physical activity just because you are getting older. It is often stated when beginning an exercise programme to consult your doctor beforehand. The message should perhaps read “If you are not regularly exercising, please consult your Doctor!”
There are many exercises here on the website that will not just improve your aerobic fitness but will target your muscles and bones to keep them strong. I hope that you not only enjoy doing them but see your health and fitness improve as a result.