Did you know that as we get older, our bones get weaker? Bone is a living tissue and as we age the structure of bone changes causing a loss of bone tissue, making the bones weaker. This is why older people are at higher risk of breaking or fracturing their bones from a sudden bump or fall. It’s also why it takes longer for them to recover from bone damage. Spinal and hip fractures are two of the most common risks of bone damage in people age 50 and over.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis means ‘bones with holes’. It occurs when bones lose minerals such as calcium and phosphorus more quickly than it replaces them. This leads to bones becoming less dense and losing strength. Bones become weak and brittle and break more easily.
Peak bone mass is usually reached when we are about 25 to 30 years old, when the skeleton has stopped growing and our bones are at their strongest. Bones become less dense as we age for a number of reasons including an inactive lifestyle or hormonal changes.
Hormones, such as testosterone and oestrogen, play an important role in maintaining bone strength in men and women. After menopause oestrogen levels drop and this speeds up bone loss. The average woman loses up to 10 per cent of her bone mass in the first five years after menopause.
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The risks of osteoporosis: spine and hip fractures
Bone fractures and breaks are a major risk of osteoporosis. Spine fractures and hip fractures can cause life-threatening complications for older people.
Spine fractures are the most common type of fractures due to osteoporosis with 1 new spine fracture occurring every 22 seconds worldwide. Spine fractures can cause:
- Severe back pain
- Spinal deformity like a stooped back
- Swallowing and breathing difficulties
- Loss of independence and depression, and
- Lead to an 8-fold increase in death.
Warning signs of spinal fractures
Warning signs of spinal fractures in elderly people include sudden back pain, a height loss of more than 3cm or a stooped back.
Half of all women over the age of 60...
Research suggests that about half of all women over the age of 60 years will have at least one fracture due to osteoporosis.
In the US, research shows that among men age 50 and over, about one in five will break a bone due to osteoporosis, and men claim one out of every three broken hips worldwide.
Hip fractures almost always require surgery to repair and it may take 6 months to a year for people to recover. During this time, your body may lose muscle condition because it’s harder to move and stay active. Research by the International Osteoporosis Foundation found that thirty-seven percent of men die within a year after they break a hip – twice as many as women.
This makes timely diagnosis and treatment for osteoporosis vital.
8 ways to minimise the risk of osteoporosis
To minimise the risk of osteoporosis, you should:
- Have a healthy and varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
- Eat calcium-rich foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt.
- Absorb enough vitamin D – approximately 5-15 minutes of sunlight (midmorning or mid afternoon). Vitamin D can also be found in small quantities in foods such as: fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel), liver, eggs, fortified foods such as low-fat milks and margarine. Some people are unable to get adequate Vitamin D through sun exposure and Vitamin D supplements may be required.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
- Limit caffeine intake
- Do regular weight-bearing and strength-training activities.
How exercise can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis
Exercising regularly throughout life may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Doing some type of physical activity on most days of the week for 30-40 minutes is recommended. Physical activities that are beneficial in preventing fracture are weight bearing and resistance training exercises.
Weight bearing exercise are any exercises performed on your feet. They encourage bone density and improve balance so you reduce your chances of having falls.
General exercise recommendations include:
- Weight-bearing activities such as brisk walking, jogging, tennis or dance.
- Strength training (or resistance training. This involves resistance being applied to a muscle to develop and maintain muscular strength, muscular endurance and muscle mass. Strength training can maintain, or even improve, bone mineral density. Some people find it easier to exercise in water, especially if they suffer from arthritis, joint or muscle pain, or are recovering from injuries.
- Activities that promote muscle strength, balance and coordination – such as Tai Chi, Pilates and gentle yoga. These activities can help to prevent falls by improving your balance, muscle strength and posture.
Before starting a new exercise program, consult your medical professional, especially if you haven’t done much exercise in a while, are over 75 years of age or have a medical condition.
Get expert advice from Inspiro's physiotherapists and exercise physiologist
Inspiro’s physiotherapists and exercise physiologists can assess your health needs and prescribe safe exercises to help you develop and maintain muscle strength, improve bone health, and prevent falls.
Our physiotherapy services are available at our Lilydale, Belgrave and Healesville sites while our exercise physiology services are available at Lilydale.
Call 9028 0153 to make an appointment with a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist today