What is Osteoporosis and Causes?
Osteoporosis, loosely defined, means porous bone. It is the most common bone disease and occurs when the body does not form enough new bone. As a matter of fact, there is too much of the old bone that is reabsorbed. When these happen, the structure of the bone becomes brittle and weak which makes it more likely to fracture when compared to normal bone.
One quick word about bone formation, phosphate and common are two minerals in bone that are very essential in its normal formation. Throughout your formative years, your body uses both minerals to produce bone. But if you do not get enough Calcium, your body will not absorb the required amount of calcium from the diet which will affect production of bone. As you get older, phosphate and calcium are reabsorbed back into the body from your bones. When this happens, your bone tissue will become much weaker, resulting in fragile and brittle bones that are more susceptible to fractures, even without trauma or injury. There are several other factors that may contribute to osteoporosis some of which include:
- lower body weight
- rheumatoid arthritis
- advanced age
- genetic history of osteoporosis
- thin or small frame
- early menopause
- use of corticosteroid medications
- lack of exercise
- cigarette smoking
- excessive alcohol use
- being confined to a bed
- chronic kidney disease
- taking corticosteroid medications for more than 3 months
- Vitamin D deficiency
Often, the loss occurs very subtly over a long period of time. In most cases, a person will not be fully aware that they have osteoporosis until they get a fracture. By the time fracture happens though, it will already be too late since the disease will be at its most severe and in the advanced stages.
Osteoporosis: More Prevalent in Women or Men?
Although osteoporosis occurs in both men and women, it is more common in women. Women are five times more likely to develop osteoporosis. Why is this? Physically, women have much lighter and smaller bones than men, which means that their bone mass is lower. Over time, this makes their bones much more vulnerable. Men also produce much more bone mass than they lose and for a longer period of time than women. Also, when women begin menopause, their bodies will stop producing estrogen, which has a very important role in reducing bone loss. By age 70, a woman can lose up to 33% of her total bone mass. Considering all of these factors, women are more susceptible to osteoporosis.
How can weight lifting prevent osteoporosis in comparison with cardiovascular exercise?
There are two types of exercise that are critical for healthy bones. The first is strength training or resistance exercise and the second is weight bearing exercise. Weight lifting (also known as load bearing or weight bearing) exercises are the best kind to prevent osteoporosis. These kinds of exercises help the bones remain robust and strong by causing tendons and muscle to pull on bones. This tension stimulates bone cells to produce even more bone. The pressure on the bones can be created by external weighs, such as when using dumbbells or gym machines in a weight training program. The pressure on the bones can also be initiated from your own bodyweight, from such activities as running or jogging. Studies that have been shown to be the best kind of exercises are high impact exercises, exercise which require you to produce a sudden jolt or stimulus to your muscle or bone. An example of this would be placing a foot during running very forcefully or a sudden jolt in pushing or lifting a weight suddenly.
While running is a very good cardiovascular activity, doing it too much can actually negatively affect you and increase the chance of getting osteoporosis. Why is this? Extreme exercise like running a marathon can affect the bone density in women negatively by interfering with production of estrogen, which is already reduced in post menopausal women. In those that follow a heavy exercise regimen, having irregular periods, bone loss, and disordered eating leads to something called “unhealthy triad”. This can cause several ramifications such as lower food intake, fluid/electrolyte imbalance, and nutrient deficiencies. When this is all combined together, the triad can lead to a higher incidence of fractures. Thus a better, safer way to prevent osteoporosis is by doing weight bearing exercise, though cardiovascular activity should also be considered when aided by an experienced trainer and under the advice of your medical doctor.
How to safely prevent osteoporosis?
Any kind of exercise that requires your body to work against gravity such as brisk walking, running, or stair climbing is very effective in promoting healthy bone production. The higher impact activity that you do, the greater and stronger your bones will benefit. If you don’t have enough time to walk, jumping in place is also effective and requires only little space.
As mentioned before, bone strengthening is a great way to create tension on your bones which will aid in bone growth stimulation. Resistance exercises are also a good method of strengthening your bones. Resistance exercises could involve weights that are strapped on to your or that you hold on to or using a resistance machine where you can program the weight. A program of at least 3 days a week would suffice enough for healthier bones. Before any kind of program, make sure to tell your doctor first about the program that you would be participating in. This is especially important to make sure that your doctor can clear you to exercise. When you are medically cleared to join a program, make sure to progress slowly and stretch all of your muscles. This will engage all of your musculature and will decrease the chance of osteoporosis.