The Problem of Osteoporosis and Pilates

I. The Problem of Osteoporosis

An osteoporosis web site opens with this question, “Did you know that a woman’s risk of osteo-related fracture is greater than her risk of cervical, uterine, and breast cancer combined?” Then why do people laugh when I tell them that I’m scheduled for a baseline DEXA Scan next week at the age of 38? “Why do you need one, you’re so young?” “But you exercise and eat well, why worry?” And my personal favorite, “You are so body aware, wouldn’t you know if you had a problem?” Even with all the media discussion about osteoporosis and the fact that one in two women over the age of 50 will experience an osteoporosis related spinal fracture people still don’t take the problem to heart.

In fact, I can check off twelve possible risk factors for osteoporosis:

1) I am Caucasian.

2) I am female.

3) I suffered from severe endometriosis.

4) I was treated for the latter with GnRH inhibitors and Depo-Provera, both proven to cause bone loss.

5) I did not have a menstrual cycle for over 18 months during said treatment.

6) I over-exercised as a teenager.

7) I ate too little as a teenager.

8) I entered menopause at age 27 after a hysterectomy with removal of both ovaries.

9) I never gave birth.

10) I have a small frame.

11) I smoked for approximately 10 years.

12) I am adopted and do not know my family medical history.

Not only am I at high risk for osteoporosis, I do a lot of Pilates (at least 2-5 sessions per week) in addition to teaching and teacher training. And there are a lot of Pilates exercises that I will need to stop doing or radically modify if my bones are weak.

The issue of osteoporosis comes up a lot at my Pilates studio. My clients are mostly caucasian women over 50, many of whom are breast cancer survivors. On the whole, these beautiful active women all look pretty healthy. They have decent posture, play tennis and golf, walk a lot, and really try to eat well. They have access to the best doctors, the latest medical treatments, and the most cutting edge gyms, personal trainers, and Pilates studios. Even so, most of them have low bone density–osteopenia and osteoporosis (more on the difference in a minute) and the majority move on a daily basis in ways that put them at greater risk of fracture–EVEN THOSE WHO HAVE GONE TO CERTIFIED PILATES TEACHERS AND PERSONAL TRAINERS. It is important that you educated yourself about osteoporosis so that you will know what to do and not do for yourselves and those you care about.