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Pilates for Bone Health

I’ve been wanting to do a post on the subject of bone health for a while now. More specifically, Osteoporosis. Think its not relevant to you? Read on, you may be surprised...

Osteoporosis is known as “the silent epidemic”, the reason being that the majority of people who have it are not aware until they suffer a fracture. It is much more common in women than in men, although men can get it too.

The statistics are a little alarming. It is estimated that 3 million people in the UK have Osteoporosis. It is also estimated that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will suffer a fracture. We are living in an aging population, and therefore the amount of people living with Osteoporosis is expected to rise, placing a huge burden on the NHS. Here are just some of the main risk factors:-

  • Being female(!)

  • Menopause (in particular, early menopause, ie. before the age of 45)

  • Smoking

  • Heavy drinking

  • Sedentary lifestyle (little or no physical activity)

  • Low BMI

  • Past or present eating disorder or digestive issue (eg. Anorexia, Bulimia, Ulcerative Colitis, Coeliac’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease)

  • Thyroid issues/use of thyroid-related drugs

  • Prolonged use of steroids

  • Hereditary

  • Diet (low calcium intake, high intake of fizzy type drinks)

  • High intake of caffeine

  • Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation)

  • Chemotherapy

  • Depression

  • Low testosterone levels (in men)

But here’s the thing – Osteoporosis is preventable.

“Osteoporosis” literally means “porous bones”. Our bones are constantly being broken down and renewed as we go about our daily lives. Osteoporosis occurs when the rate of bone breakdown is faster than the rate of bone renewal. Osteopenia (low bone density) is the precursor to Osteoporosis.

So, we need to continue to stimulate bone growth as much as possible. Bone responds best to a force greater than that it is used to, so when we are wanting to grow bone we need to think intensity, not duration. Weight bearing, impact, resistance and strength training can all be helpful in stimulating bone growth. After about 10 minutes of repetitive exercise, the bone stops responding. So we need to mix it up!

How can Pilates help?

In so many ways!

Pilates is a safe, systematic method of exercising which can stimulate bone production. It is widely recognised as being extremely effective in improving balance, co-ordination, posture and core stability. It provides weight bearing and resistance type exercises which are low impact - this is important as high impact exercises are not recommended for menopausal and post menopausal women, elderly men or those with joint problems.

Here are some of the benefits:-

  • Pilates offers weight bearing and resistance exercises to stimulate bone growth, targeting in particular the bones of the vulnerable sites (hips, wrists, spine);

  • helps to improve postural alignment and encourages length in the spine in order to reduce compressional forces;

  • teaches the importance of neutral alignment of joints;

  • improves balance and co-ordination to reduce the risk of falls;

  • targets anti-gravity muscles, in particular the deep core muscles and the back extensors;

  • focuses on back extension exercises which are vitally important for spine health;

  • strengthens muscles generally, providing support around vulnerable joints;

  • maintains and improves joint mobility;

  • improves ability to hip hinge (rather than flex the spine which is a contra-indicated movement).

If you have Osteopenia or Osteoporosis it is important that you seek advice from your GP before starting an exercise programme. Also, make sure that you choose a qualified person with knowledge and experience in the area of bone health, as certain movements and exercises are considered to be unsafe and can put you at risk of fracture. Be safe!

I hold a Level 3 certificate in designing programmes for bone health. If you have any questions on this subject, feel free to ask me in the comments below, or send me a message.

Keep doing Pilates!

Marina x

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