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Our bone's health is vital for us to be able to continue to do what we love, yet it is so easy for us to neglect our bones. Our bones structurally provide us with support and protection to our vital organs. They also act as a shelter for where our blood cells can be created as well as a storage for our minerals, especially Calcium. Strong bones allow us to lead an active and independent lifestyle, despite our age. However, if steps are not taken to maintain our bone density, the bones can become very brittle and easily fracture during our everyday living. The result can be the loss of independence as well as an overall decline in health due to the lack of activity.

What is Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis occurs when bones loses the ability to store calcium and other minerals, thus, making them brittle and susceptible to fractures. Osteopenia is when the bones have a lower bone density than normal but not severe enough to break easily, as with osteoporosis.

The Numbers…

  • 2 out of 3 Australians over the age of 50 suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia
  • Osteoporosis affects 1.2 million Australians
  • For Australians over the age of 65, osteoporosis affects more than 1 in 5 in women and 1 in 20 in men.

The increased risk of developing this condition in women is due to the rapid decrease in oestrogen during menopause. In comparison, levels of testosterone decrease more gradually in men, hence, their bone mass is not as affected until later in life. However, after age 65, both genders will lose bone mass at the same rate.

Despite this, it is important to remember that it is never too late to start looking after your bone health and take actions to reduce risks of potential fractures.

3 steps to minimise risks of osteoporosis

Although genetics and gender primarily dictate the strength of our bones there are lifestyle choices you can adopt to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

1. Commit to resistance training and weight bearing exercise programs. Exercising regularly is essential for reducing bone mass loss. Exercises that can improve bone strength include

  • Impact based weight bearing exercises.
    • This includes walking, jogging, skipping, jumping and participating in various sports (football, dancing, netball, etc). Exercises such as swimming and cycling, though great for your cardio health, are not effective in improving bone mass as they are non-weightbearing.
  • Resistance exercises: progressive resistance training which involves lifting weights with your arms and legs.

Strength training can help to improve your bone health by asserting more demands on your bones. As your bones adapt to these stresses, it will progressively improve the density, hence, the strength of the bones. It is essential to increase the resistance as your body adapts, in order to improve bone strength. However, it is strongly recommended that you speak to your physiotherapist before starting a resistance training program to ensure that the program is both safe and challenging.

Research shows exercises should be performed for at least 30 minutes a session, three or more times a week.

2. Consuming calcium rich foods daily. Approximately 99% of calcium is found in bones. Calcium and other minerals stored in bones combine to form hard crystals which provide the bones with their strength and structure. If there is an inadequate intake of calcium, the calcium in our bones are used in other important bodily functions. Over time, this will gradually reduce the bone mass, making the bones more fragile and vulnerable to fractures.

3. Improve Vitamin D intake to assist in the absorption of Calcium by our body. This can be done by having regular and safe sun exposure as only 5-10% of Vitamin D comes from the food that we consume. Our bodies produce vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Hence, it is important that we have regular but safe exposure to the sun. The amount of exposure requires depends on the season, where you live, the time of the day and your genetics.

Kim Nguyen-Tran BPhysio, Post Grad Cert. (Cont.& Pelvic Floor Physio), APAM is the Director and Principal Physiotherapist at Back In Motion Richmond and also Back In Motion Moonee Ponds.  Her Moonee Ponds practice boasts a women’s health physiotherapist, a titled APA musculoskeletal physiotherapist; shockwave, real time ultrasound, gait scan; functional gym, full equipped Pilates studio, and they are the head physios for Melbourne Ice Hockey!