Adults who take Vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis could be wasting their time and money, according to major new study. Instead, good old sunshine and exercise is recommended to increase your bone density. Prevention of osteoporosis starts when you’re young, so get ahead and start building strong bones now.
Osteoporosis literally means ‘bones with holes’. The disease causes bones to weaken and sometimes break. Our bones peak in density around the mid-twenties, then around age 35 you start to lose bone density, as the removal of old bone exceeds the formation of new bone. It’s quite a normal part of ageing but in some people it can lead to osteoporosis. As most of us are living longer, it’s important we invest in the future of our bones.
Who’s at risk?
Women are more prone to osteoporosis as their bones weaken with the loss of the hormone oestrogen during the menopause. Currently, around one in 3 women over 50 have osteoporosis. Although osteoporosis is often considered to be a “women’s condition”, increasing numbers of UK men are also being diagnosed with the disease - currently one in 12 men aged over 50 - and millions more are at risk of developing it throughout their lifetime. Men tend to be diagnosed later in life and are less likely to recognize the condition until pain sets in or a bone suddenly snaps.
Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of developing the disease.
Vitamin D is essential for good bone health. However, the recent study confirms that Vitamin D supplements are ineffective at strengthening bones. The alternative? Get outside in the sunshine. Sun exposure is the absolutely best source of Vitamin D. Just 10 minutes twice a day during the summer will supply you with enough vitamin D for the whole year.
Exercise can be a preventative measure and a treatment of osteoporosis. According to radiology assistant Bob Schmaltz “bone continually monitors what stress we put on it. With bone mass it’s a use-it-or-lose-it proposition, much like muscle”. So we need to look at exercising as a way of strengthening our bones, as well as building muscles.
Start prevention early, or now
Osteoporosis seems to makes its start around age 25, as bone begins to lose mass, so early adulthood is prime time to start prevention. The latest recommendation is that women begin strengthening exercises in their teens to help offset natural bone loss as they get older. However, studies show that bone density benefit from weight training can be achieved by women in their fifties or older, so it’s never too late to start.
Young men should also incorporate bone strengthening exercises into their workout routines by the age of 25, according to a major study at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden. The research followed men aged between 18 and 25 for five years and found that those who did at least four hours of load-bearing exercise a week increased their hip bone density by 1.3%. In contrast, those with a persistently sedentary lifestyle experienced an average loss of 2.1 % hip bone density.
Weight-bearing/ load-bearing/ resistance exercises
These types of exercises help to keep the bones strong by muscles and tendons pulling on the bone, stimulating cells to produce more bone. Studies show that high intensity resistance training such as weightlifting has a significant effect at preserving bone density. It is recommended to perform 30 – 60 minutes of weight bearing exercise two to three days per week.
You can create load on your bones by your own weight, such as walking, running, press ups, pull ups, or by using machines. Gyms have plenty of machines and classes which are good for building bone strength, such as:
High impact exercise
Studies also suggest that high-impact exercises (those which give a ‘jolt’ to bones and muscles) may be just as effective as load-bearing. Include 30 – 40 minutes of exercise, alternating with weight-bearing exercises, four to six times each week, remembering variety is important. Examples to include in your workouts are:
Improving your co-ordination, balance and flexibility will also build bone strength. For example, Tai Chi and will strengthen leg muscles as you work through the poses. Yoga, in particular, has been shown in clinical trials to significantly improve bone and mineral density after two years.
Least effective exercises
Exercises which don’t benefit bones include swimming, water aerobics and cycling. This is because the water is supporting the body’s weight during the exercise, not the bones.
Remember that osteoporosis can sneak up on you silently. Keeping up those exercises now will pay dividends when you’re older.
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