Hitting your thirties is often met with celebration as you reach a new age milestone – and for your bones, it’s a big milestone too. The first three decades, or thereabouts, see us building our bone mass as part of a natural process where bone is constantly being broken down and replaced by new bone – though we never notice it. Around the age of thirty, the scales then tend to tip and see bone start to break down at a faster rate than it is replaced, causing our bones to grow thinner and more fragile.
Aside from our age, there are other factors that influence how quickly we ‘lose’ bone which includes our overall nutrition and vitamin D intake, medical conditions that affect our body’s ability to absorb the nutrients from our food like in coeliac disease, our level of physical activity, and our hormones.
So what does this bone loss mean for you, why are women particularly at risk, and what’s the best way to stop or prevent it? Our physios at PhysioCentral have shared the inside scoop on why you should be paying attention to your bone strength – starting today.
Why Does Natural Bone Loss Matter?
Our bones are our natural scaffolding that work with our joints and muscles to hold our body together. Aside from keeping us upright and providing the foundations to which our muscles attach, they also protect our internal organs, store important minerals like calcium, and are the place where many cells, like our red blood cells are formed.
When our bones decrease in mass, they become weak and delicate. A mild to moderate decrease in bone mass is known as osteopenia. If a person’s bone mass continues to decline to a point where they become significantly brittle, this is medically known as osteoporosis, a limiting condition that has shown to affect 23.7% of elderly women aged over 65 years in Hong Kong – with another 60% having osteopenia.
Having brittle bones can predispose us to falls and fractures, which aside from being painful and often requiring hospitalisation among older adults, can limit our ability to stay mobile and active. While fracturing a bone from a simple fall from a standing height may seem uncommon, it’s a common reality of those with low bone density, with 1.5 million people estimated to sustain a fracture due to bone disease every year.
Why Women Lose Bone Much Faster Than Men
While men and women both lose bone and both genders can lose significant bone mass and should take their bone health very seriously, osteoporosis is reported to be four times more common in women than men for a number of reasons.
The first is due to hormones – particularly estrogen. When women enter menopause or are leading up to it in the period known as perimenopause, the female body slows the production of estrogen, which plays a big role in helping prevent bones from losing calcium.
The next is pregnancy, where the baby needs ample amounts of calcium and vitamin D to form healthy bones. If your diet isn’t rich in these, your body can take them from your bones. Additionally, studies show that up to 5% of bone mass may be lost during breastfeeding. Thankfully, research indicates that this loss in bone mass is recovered after childbirth and breastfeeding cessation.
A smaller frame with smaller and lighter bones is another reason, with studies showing that women that are thin, whether it’s natural or resulting from an eating disorder, have an increased risk of impaired bone quality and developing osteoporosis.
What’s The Best Way To Maintain Or Improve Your Bone Strength?
While many turn to medications to try to improve their bone health, there’s one natural thing we can do to slow bone loss and help promote new bone formation to keep them strong and healthy: exercise. Much like how our muscles grow stronger when we exercise, our bones follow the ‘use it or lose it’ principle, reacting when regular loads are placed on them to grow denser and stronger.
With this said, not all exercise is equal when it comes to our bone health – the way that stress and a load is applied to the bone during exercise is very important. Two specific exercise types that are shown to support our bone health include:
- Weight-bearing exercise – this is done on your feet, bearing your body weight
- Resistance training – this includes weights and other equipment where you can adjust the intensity over time
The two keys here are that firstly, the exercise should be high intensity as opposed to low or moderate intensity. This is because high intensity has been shown in studies to be superior in improving bone strength in postmenopausal women.
The second key is that the exercise you do must be uniquely tailored to your body. Launching headfirst into an unspecified exercise program carries a real risk of doing more harm than good. For example, starting a class with high-intensity rapid movements – or even low-intensity Pilates classes when your muscle and joint strength has been affected alongside your bone health can put you at significant risk of losing your balance and falling – and if you already have significant bone loss, that could mean a fracture.
This is why our best recommendation to exercise safely and to effectively start working your way towards healthier, strong bones is to get a tailored exercise program by an exercise and rehabilitation specialist, such as Nathan Stewart who specialises in this field alongside our many experienced physios. After performing a comprehensive assessment, your exercise specialist practitioner will design a unique program that is specific to your body and needs and takes into account your previous and current injuries, lifestyle, medical conditions and exercise preferences – because it’s important to enjoy what you do if it’s going to last.
Book your appointment online or call us on +852 2801.4801