To be frank, only your back has got your back. So looking after your back from as young as possible is an extremely wise thing to do. Without a comfortable back there isn’t much you can do in life. Movement becomes constricted if your back is under any stress, and particularly so if you are diagnosed with osteoporosis.
However, keeping the back in shape is the same process whether you are simply keeping fit and healthy, or whether you are taking care of an osteoporotic condition. It’s always the same mantra: diet and exercise. Your bones need the right nutrition – and the muscles that hold those bones in place need the right amount of movement and exercise to ensure they maintain strength. And your spine is no different. It holds your entire body together and gives you the power to make those very necessary movements.
- Exercise is the key factor in keeping your back in sync. Muscles must be kept strong with regular use. Weight-bearing activities help to build and maintain bone mass. Inactivity allows bones to thin and weaken.
- Most people with osteoporosis are encouraged to do some form of weight-bearing exercise as a way to better maintain bone mass, but some exercise may be discouraged. For example, your doctor might advise against heavy lifting, doing sit-ups, or bending over to touch the toes, which could put undue stress on the spine.
- Remember that at any time you have back pain that lasts more than a week or two, you should see your doctor. Ignoring back pain and potential vertebral compression fractures may lead to bigger problems down the road, such as increased pain, tingling, numbness, weakness, and ultimately severe spinal deformity.
- Engaging in fitness programmes helps keep the back healthy by allowing discs to exchange fluids, which is the way discs receive nutrition. A healthy disc will swell with water and squeeze it out, similar to the action of a sponge. This sponge action distributes nutrients to the disc.
- Exercising reduces stiffness in the back muscles by keeping the connective fibres of ligaments and tendons flexible. Improved mobility through back exercise helps to prevent the connective fibres from tearing under stress, which in turn prevents injury and back pain.
- Muscles need to work. Exercise strengthens, and repairs muscles that support the back and keep the spine in place. The back and abdominal muscles act as an internal corset supporting the vertebrae discs, facet joints, and ligaments.
- Stretching is an excellent way to exercise the back; stretching hamstring muscles helps to relieve low back stress. Another benefit is that motion helps to lubricate the facet joints, which are synovial joints requiring regular movement to remain functional and healthy.
- Being either underweight or overweight is detrimental to bone health. When you’re too small, your bones are at risk of becoming thin and brittle. When you have excess weight, your body can store extra fat in places like your bone marrow, making your bones weak and prone to breaking.
- A combination of resistance training and weight-bearing aerobic exercise is proven to boost bone mineral density and lower your risk of osteoporosis. The thicker your bones are, the less vulnerable they are to fractures. You don’t need to become a bodybuilder either – consider the facts: just 20 minutes of strength training with small amounts of weight and 15 minutes of weight-bearing cardio exercise like walking or climbing stairs is enough to protect your bones.
- Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces your risk for chronic diseases – and also impacts your bones positively. High intake of fruit and vegetables is linked to better bone density and a decreased risk of osteoporosis.
- Osteoporosis is often thought of as a silent disease – so unless you are actively monitoring your bone mineral density, you may be unaware that you’re losing bone mass. Have regular bone density tests. If you catch bone density issues before osteoporosis develops, you can take preventative steps to slow bone loss and protect the health of your bones.
Quit smoking, decrease alcohol, increase calcium and Vitamin D.
Calcium: Calcium is essential to strong bones throughout all life stages and especially as you move into your senior years. If you’re looking to boost your intake, then simply adding dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese is probably the easiest way to go.
Vitamin D: This is another important nutrient that helps to keep your bones strong and ward off osteoporosis. It facilitates calcium absorption, and when it’s in short supply your body has no choice but to pull it from your bones to meet its daily requirement. This can leave your bones weak and vulnerable to fractures.Your doctor will send you for a blood test to have your Vitamins D levels checked if he thinks you are at risk for low levels and discuss a treatment plan if you’re deficient.
Alcohol: Moderation is key when it comes to alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol interferes with the calcium balance and messes with your hormones. Strong bones mean limit how much alcohol you drink i.e – not more than 1-2 alcoholic beverages per day.
Sleep: Restorative sleep not only benefits your general wellbeing, it’s necessary for bone health. Over time, not getting enough sleep negatively impacts your bones and is linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis. If you suffer from insomnia, or have problems falling asleep, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options.
Straighten up, step out, and back your bones! Loving your spine means you not only love your bones, but body and soul as well.
NOFSA (National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa)
NOFSA is the only non-profit, voluntary health organisation dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health. We focus on reducing the widespread prevalence of osteoporosis while working to find a cure for the disease, and by supporting research and developing programmes of education and advocacy.
Find out more about our work at: www.osteoporosis.org.za