Fact: osteoporosis is no longer a disease that only affects women on the other side of 50; women as young as 30 are at risk of developing brittle bones, too. And what begins as mild aches can escalate to life-threatening fractures within just a few years. Much like our skin, our bones are also constantly being formed and reabsorbed. By the time we hit 30, the formation of new bone tissue becomes slower than the reabsorption of old tissue, resulting in weak joints and porous bones.
A study published by the International Journal of Women’s Health in 2015 found that Indian women, between the ages of 30 and 60, have much lower bone density as compared to our Caucasian counterparts. Fifty-two per cent suffered from osteopenia (less severe version of osteoporosis) and 29 per cent from osteoporosis, due to lack of vitamin D, calcium and sunlight exposure. “Indians have DNA variations that don’t always produce the amount of vitamin D needed to build and maintain bone [health]. This puts Indian women at a biological disadvantage of developing osteoporosis early,” says Mallika Tarkas Parekh, a health professional and director of the Mumbai-based barre studio, Physique 57.
When you’re at risk of developing weak bones, it’s only natural to think that any form of exercise is going to make it worse, but the opposite is true. Preventative workouts are the best bet, especially since there’s no cure to rebuilding bone strength from scratch.
Besides the obvious benefits of weight training—quicker metabolism and fat burn—it’s also a great way to fight bone loss. A weight-bearing activity causes muscles to push and tug against the bones, which prompts swifter bone tissue growth. In your twenties, weight training can help increase bone density by two to eight per cent. Not just that, stronger muscles will also give your body better support and keep your joints in place. If you’re new to strength training, try a 30-minute routine with light dumbbells (between one and five pounds), or opt for elastic resistance bands. Slowly increase the duration as you build strength to maximise the benefits. Get help from a trainer to design a plan that works on your entire body, including the deeper muscles that help improve stability. You can mix it up with low-impact cardio exercises that will keep you fit without the fear of injury, like aerobics, yoga, swimming or even just a walk to work up a sweat.
RAISE THE BARRE
If you’re still wary of dumbbells, sign up for a Pilates or barre programme that will offer you similar benefits. Barre workouts are newer on the exercise circuit, and are a more pumped-up version of aerobics with some principles of ballet. Based on small isometric movements (a form of strength training) that rely on your body’s weight for resistance, barre workouts improve your overall tone and strength by focusing on a high number of repetitions, core strength and control. These movements put almost no strain on the tendons or ligaments that connect the bones and muscles. “Only our body weight is used as resistance, which results in a greater amount of stimulus for our bones and muscles,” says Parekh. “Additionally, 80 per cent of the workout uses the core muscles—this improves posture and balance, lowers the risk of falling, and corrects muscular imbalances.”
“These low-impact, weight-bearing forms of exercise increase strength, and improve muscle mass, flexibility, balance and coordination, to help prevent future injury,” says Namrata Purohit, a certified Pilates, barre and rehab trainer. The exercises also ensure you maintain a better posture, which keeps the spine aligned, and prevents pinched nerves and muscles spasms. They are both safe for anyone with brittle bones, especially since they allow site-specific exercises to target weak zones, like the back, hips and wrists. But make it a point to avoid movements that involve bending forward, rolling on your back or twisting the spine—these are dangerous motions for someone with bone loss and could lead to a fractured spine.
Since we can’t change things on a genetic level, a little assistance through health supplements is always welcome. Try magnesium to regulate the hormone that stimulates calcium absorption, phosphorous to build bone strength, and omega-3 fatty acids to increase calcium levels. Consult a doctor and add vitamin D and calcium to your regular diet. They are both essential, since vitamin D helps the body use calcium. While you’re getting all these nutrients from supplements, don’t forget the biggest and most natural source of vitamin D—the sun.
5 calcium and vitamin-rich foods that will help you out: