Brittle bones can be a real problem as we age, especially for women after menopause. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes your bones to become weak and break more easily (1). Breaks occur most commonly in the hip, wrist, or spine (1;2). Aging alone increases your risk of osteoporosis, but you may be even more at risk if you are a woman, are past-menopause, have a family history of the disease, or have a small body frame. Lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, diet, and exercise can also play a role (1).
Falling and breaking a bone happens frequently among older adults (3) and can significantly decrease quality of life (4). Worldwide, an estimated 9 million fractures (aka breaks) occur every year due to osteoporosis (5). In Canada, osteoporosis accounts for 80% of all fractures after 50 years of age. This means that of the 30,000 Canadians that experience a broken hip each year, 24,000 are due to osteoporosis (4).
Is bone loss an inevitable part of aging? Yes – to a certain extent – but there are things you can do to slow it down.
What the research tells us
A recent systematic review found that combined exercise programs can improve and preserve bone density in postmenopausal women above and beyond the benefits offered by usual levels of daily physical activity. These benefits to bone density can prevent bone loss and potentially reduce the risk of fractures (2). Combined exercise programs may include activities such as resistance training (e.g. upper and lower body training – leg press, squats, weights) (2;6), impact exercises (e.g. jumping, skipping), and aerobic exercises (e.g. walking, jogging, dancing). Programs evaluated in the review were delivered either at a center, or in both one’s home and a center; were fully or partially supervised; occurred 2-6 days/week; and lasted between 8-30 months (2).
For those who are worried that exercise may increase their risk of falling – no exercise-related injuries were reported in the review (2).
We all know that exercise is good for building muscle, but combined exercise may be good for your bones too!