Bone and movement are inextricably linked. Bones help
convert muscle power into directional motion. Think of the great speed a
cheetah can achieve whilst the poor snail or worm, without a skeleton, can
barely achieve a rapid crawl. Teréza Hough, CEO of the National Osteoporosis
Foundation of South Africa (NOFSA) explains.
As we grow, our muscles get bigger, and so do our bones.
Improving the strength of our muscles will put more muscle strain on bones,
which invariably leads to stronger bones. Therefore, the stronger your muscles
are, the stronger your bones will be.
Although the exact mechanism is still a bit of a mystery to
us, we know that adequate exercise is important for normal bone formation as it
is the only physiological means of stimulating new bone formation. Being immobile
for lengthy periods of time has the opposite effect on bone and immobilisation,
and so it causes rapid bone loss which in turn can lead to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes a reduction in bone
mass and a deterioration of bone structure. Osteoporosis weakens bones, and
weak bones can easily fracture. In turn, fractures cause pain and can put
severe limitations on our daily life because they reduce mobility.
Use it or lose it
Less mobility, because of an osteoporosis-related fracture
or simply by doing no exercise, means muscles are not being used as much. This
lack of movement results in a cutback in the production of new, healthy bone
tissue. Thus, weaker muscles result in weaker bones.
All of us are acquainted with the old adage: “If you don’t
use it, you lose it!” What this means is that as muscles are used less and
less, the control our nervous system exerts over those muscles begins to
decline. This means that reflexes are not as good as they should be and the
risk of stumbling or falling increases.
If we don’t exercise our muscles, we run the risk of
falling, and the more often you fall, the better your chances are of suffering
an osteoporotic fracture. Falls also lead to a decline in confidence and
patients get too afraid to actually do activities outside of their homes.
All of this supports the idea that improving muscle strength
and muscle function is beneficial for our bones. Exercise builds strong
muscles, which in turn builds strong bones. Exercise also improves muscle
control, balance and coordination, and reduces the risk of falling or suffering
a fracture during a fall.
Even patients with fractures can benefit from special
exercises and training, which can improve muscle strength and muscle function.
This allows mobilization and improves daily life activities.
What type of exercise
should I do?
There are two types of exercises that are important for
building and maintain bone density: weight-bearing and muscle strengthening.
High-impact weight-bearing exercises help build bones and
keep them strong. This type of exercise should be avoided if you already have a
fracture and is ideally suited for the young, although anyone can do this,
provided that there are no existing fractures and if you are not sure, consult
a healthcare provider. These exercises include high-impact aerobics,
jogging/running, skipping, tennis and hiking.
Low-impact weight-bearing exercise is a safe alternative if
you cannot do high impact exercise and is also good for your bones. These
include using elliptical training machines, low-impact aerobics, using
stair-step machines and brisk walking on a treadmill or outside.
These exercises include activities where you either move your
body, weights or some other resistance against gravity. They are also known as
resistance exercises. These include lifting weights, using weight machines,
using elastic exercise bands and lifting your own body weight.
Yoga and pilates can also improve strength, balance and
flexibility, but caution needs to be exercised for those at increased risk of
broken bones. A physiotherapist should be able to help you with the safest