Bone Density is slowly coming into awareness as an essential factor in our health. If we don't strengthen our bones, suddenly we can find ourselves in the position of having Osteoporosis as it is a silent loss of bone and often isn't picked up until it's too late. For some there is a biological imbalance that can lead to the body extracting calcium from the body if it feels it needs to, almost like the wires getting crossed and the body computer sending the wrong messages. This is rare, however and in most cases Osteoporosis affects woman over 50. Post-menopausal women have a greater susceptibility to bone loss due to the decrease of estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen stimulates bone growth while progesterone inhibits bone loss. Traditionally, women have been placed on HRT-hormone replacement therapy (combination of estrogen and progesterone) after menopause. But this therapy comes with its own set of risks and issues, and a lot of women are choosing to take a more natural path through lifestyle choices and exercise. It is estimated that in New Zealand, one In three women and one in five men will suffer a fracture due to Osteoporosis.
Having said that, an alarming amount of cases are being reported in people much younger. Why is this? It is thought to be concurrent with a more sedentary life style where most of our tasks, shopping and business is done in front of a computers with high tech devices to make our lives more efficient. Does this come at loss to our physicality? It would appear so. Diet also pays a huge part, getting sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D are essential and more recently studies show positive benefits of micronutrients such as vitamin K, B vitamins and homocysteine, vitamin A, magnesium and zinc on bone density. It would be beneficial to look into your diet and find out if you are getting enough of these vitamins. For example if you are not seeing at least 20 minutes or sun a day, get a monthly vitamin D shot or just take a daily cap. If you are dairy free, seek out sesame and chia seeds, almonds, kale, salmon and sardines.
So let's look at how we work with exercise to improve bone density, halt the loss or in some cases turn Osteoporosis around. The good news is that I have discovered many studies that show hope for making a vast difference. It's not too late to address your body and your bone density. Let's take a look at our options.
BEST EXERCISES FOR INCREASING BONE DENSITY
WEIGHT BEARING- ok so we have all heard about weight-bearing exercises being your top choice. Absolutely. It is suggested that you do short busts to your strongest weight capacity to fatigue. But fear not, if you're not a gym junkie you can also exercise with hand weights, ankle weights, or use that extra strong spring setting on the Pilates Reformer. So what if that's not an option? So let's jump then. Take a skipping rope or do my Barre split jumps and now you have gravity and force (under alignment) to do the same thing. Short bursts are more stimulating to bone cells than sustained low-mid intensity exercise. HIIT and high intensity with lower weight can also achieve a similar result to lifting a heavy weight.
RESISTANCE TRAINING- This is a wonderful option for a home training session and you'll find many resistance exercises at the barre. For example, barre squats, resistance bands, soft pilates ball exercises will achieve this. You can ramp up your floor barre routine by looping a resistance band around your foot, or performing rows or C Curves with a band wrapped around your feet.
BALANCE EXERCISES- This is one of my favourite aspects and one the Barre fully covers. So we stand at the barre, we put our body into alignment and then we move from two to one leg with our weight bearing down upon the joints and bones. Not only is this quietly increasing the density but it's decreasing your risk of falling and fracturing bones. Often I will take people off the barre to perform balance exercise to really challenge balance and alignment.
RAPID, DYNAMIC MOVEMENTS- Quick changes of movement and direction (hello Barre Warrior) are also stimulating to bone cells.
Example of single leg HIIT exercise, pulling up from a lunge to a tendu, bearing up on your bones
BEST EXERCISES IF YOU ALREADY HAVE OSTEOPOROSIS AND WHAT TO AVOID
PILATES- Heralded as perhaps the very best exercise for Osteoporosis. Spinal extensions, dynamic alignment, weight bearing and balance such as side planks, planks, pilates press ups, and leg strength such as single and double leg hip raises. However there are some exercises to avoid: Rounded spine abdominal work including hundreds in teaser, roll ups, neck pull or open leg rocker; Loaded Spine exercises such as jacknife, bicycle, seal, roll-over or scissors; Deep Twists such as spine twist, corkscrew saw and bicycle. Pressure on the ribcage such as rolling swan, rocking. Other than those exercises, Pilates will assist in controlling and stabilising the core, better alignment and balance, strengthening your entire 'power house' (trunk and hips) and your limbs. The Pilates Reformer is also safe and allows stability in the powerhouse as you strengthen legs, arms backs etc. The higher spring settings will give resistance which not only strengthens around your joints but also stimulates bone cells.
BARRE- This is my favourite, naturally. Barre sets up balance and alignment to prevent falls and fractures all with the safety of holding on to a barre; Dynamic changes and varied pathways to stimulate bone cells; Weight-bearing, mostly using your own body weight but sometimes adding small weights; High intensity bursts which is proven to increase the density and cell growth more than slow and steady. For example cardio does very little to contribute to your bone density, where as High Intensity Interval Training- which makes up most of a Barre Warrior class makes a vastly more effective play on your bones. Many of the barre facing exercise in the first 30 mins of the Barre Warrior class are designed to bear up on your single leg such as 'tendu-lunge' or bear down on a single leg such as 'knee repeater'. Taught in sets that work at high intensity, loading your own weight onto the bone mass. There are not really many exercises here that are going to negatively impact you. Just take it slowly and get your confidence in the movements. Watch out for twisting movements such as 'curtsy-kick'.
THE REBOUNDER- This is an interesting one. If you have osteopenia (loss of bone mineral density- not as far gone as Osteoporosis), then this is a fantastic option. The rebounder is low impact but increases bone metabolism. Jumping with nice taut springs puts stress into the bones in the best possible way without over burdening your bones, with up to 4 times the force of gravity acting on the body. The rebounder also builds confidence in balance and only needs to be done in small amounts of time to be highly effective. Studies by NASA show that rebounding is up to 66% more effective for the cardiovascular system and was sent with astronauts to train in space, one of the reasons being for bone density loss that occurs whilst being in space.
I believe a lot more research will come out in the near future. This is a look at how you can take charge right now and also feel even better for taking a Barre Warrior class! If you are at all concerned with your bone density you can go and get a test done and perhaps repeat the test every couple of years. Bone density testing is usually undertaken using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). DEXA is a precise and pain-free test that takes about 20 minutes where you lie on a table while the DEXA machine passes over you. The density of bone is measured at different locations (usually the lower spine and hip) and a formula is used to calculate the overall bone density. Your bone density is graded by comparing it to the average bone density for a person of similar age, size, and gender.
So happy bone building and I'll see you at the Barre!