During the transition to menopause your most immediate concern is in finding ways to relieve the discomfort of the symptoms you’re experiencing right now, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, sleeplessness and fatigue.
Understandable. However, you should be aware that there is a “silent disease” that you could already have or be at risk of developing, without even knowing.
It’s called Osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis means “porous bone” and it’s a disease of the bones which causes a loss in bone density and mass, leaving the bone weak and subject to fractures. You can’t feel your bones getting weaker, so quite often it takes a break to realize that you have osteoporosis.
Throughout your childhood and young adulthood, your bones are constantly being removed and rebuilt; old bone is being replaced by new bone. After the age of 30, bone loss starts to outpace bone formation. After menopause, bone loss speeds up even more due to the decline in estrogen levels in your body; in fact post menopausal women can lose up to 2% of their bone mass annually.
Osteoporosis affects over 200 million people worldwide. It’s estimated that more than 10 million Americans, both men and women, have osteoporosis and 34 million more are at high risk of developing it. A staggering 50% of all women and 25% of men will suffer bone fractures related to osteoporosis at some time in their life.
Steps You Can Take Now To Prevent Osteoporosis
Although you can’t control certain risk factors for developing osteoporosis like a family history of the disease, a lifetime of non-exercise, a lifelong low-calcium diet or a low body weight/height ratio, it’s not too late to incorporate some changes into your lifestyle that will help to strengthen your bones and decrease your risk of fractures.
Recent studies have shown that the risk of osteoporosis is reduced in people who are active, and health experts are recommending the following 3 specific types of exercise that you can do to build bone mass and prevent osteoporosis.
Exercise Type #1: Weight-bearing
Weight-bearing means the type of exercise where your feet and legs support your body’s weight.
Examples of weight-bearing exercise:
- Stair climbing
These are described as ‘low impact’ exercises. ‘High impact’ weight-bearing exercises such as jogging, jumping or running may put pressure on your spine and are not recommended if you have or are at high risk of developing, osteoporosis.
30 minutes a day 5 days a week is recommended. You don’t have to do the 30 minute session in one go, the 30 minutes can be spread throughout the day
Exercise Type # 2: Resistance/Strength Training
Resistance means you’re muscles are working against the weight of another object or your own body. Resistance exercise strengthens muscles and bones and increases bone density thereby reducing the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Building muscle also helps protect your joints and improve your balance.
Examples of resistance exercise:
- Lifting weights: free weights or weight machines
- Resistance tubes: lightweight tubing that provides resistance when stretched
- Water resistance: in a swimming pool
- Body weight: lifting your own body weight with pull-ups, push-ups or squats
Resistance training can be done at home, at the gym or in a pool.
A minimum of two to three 20-minute sessions a week is recommended, working different muscle groups at each session.
Exercise Type #3: Flexibility
Improving strength, balance and flexibility in later life is important to decrease your risk of falls which can often result in broken bones.
Examples of flexibility exercises include:
All of these forms of flexibility exercise can be done on your own at home or by joining a class.
One or two classes a week are recommended or if you’re exercising at home, short 15 minute routines practiced regularly most days are more beneficial than a one-hour session once a week.
Which Type Of Exercise Is Best For Me?
All of these exercises are effective in building and strengthening bones and reducing the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
The type of exercise that’s best for you, however, is the one that you will enjoy and practise regularly! It’s important to choose the form of exercise that you can most easily incorporate into your current lifestyle.
If you’re not used to exercising you could start by taking regular power walks outdoors, either by yourself or with a walking ‘buddy’, or walk on a treadmill, gradually building your distance over time. Or you may find the motivation you need to exercise by joining a dance, yoga or pilates class.
Strength training can be done at home or at a gym. Just make sure you follow a program designed by a professional trainer to avoid injury.
If you have broken a bone, are at risk of osteoporosis or if you just haven’t exercised for a while, you should check with your healthcare provider before embarking on a new exercise program.