Osteoporosis: Is Yoga Helpful?
Oh no! Osteoporosis!
It’s taken me more than a year to write about being diagnosed with osteoporosis. I don’t know why it’s taken so long. Perhaps there’s a touch of denial? But the truth is, I have been on medication for it for the last six months.
In the past I’ve written several articles regarding my journey with osteoarthritis and my subsequent hip replacements. Besides these articles, I’ve written about the hysterectomy I underwent in 2006. Interestingly, these two topics have been among my most popular posts.
So, here’s the deal, as President Biden says…. On Easter Sunday 2020, I was riding my bicycle over some slippery gravel, slid and fell on my wrist and arm. The next morning my hand and wrist was one and a half times bigger than when I went to bed. After many tests and images–one of them a bone density test–it was determined that I had ‘only a very bad sprain’.
That was the positive side of my diagnosis. I was told that in six or eight weeks, I would be good as new, which turned out to be mostly true. However, the bone density test revealed that I had osteoporosis.
What is it?
Osteoporosis, as distinct from osteoarthritis, is a condition in which bones become weak and brittle. They can become so porous that they are sometimes described as honey-combed.
Normally the body is constantly absorbing and replacing bone tissue, but with osteoporosis new bone creation doesn’t keep up with old bone removal.
Risk factors that contribute to the condition are smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet, familial tendency, low vitamin D levels, inadequate intake of calcium, low body weight, physical inactivity and a history of falls.
The danger with osteoporosis is that many people have no symptoms until they have a bone fracture.
Treatment includes medication, a healthy diet and weight-bearing exercise to help prevent bone loss or strengthen already weak bones.
A calcium-rich diet is vital, plus a sensible amount of sunshine to get Vitamin D, as well as regular weight-bearing and movement exercise.
It’s a good idea for women when they enter menopause to undergo a bone density test because their oestrogen levels are dropping. Oestrogen is the hormone that promotes osteoblasts, the cells that promote bone. When oestrogen is lacking, the osteoblasts can’t produces bone. If you have the test, you will have a baseline to compare with any future losses of bone.
Is yoga helpful?
Yoga teacher, Maria Kirsten, has said in advising about how much exercise and weight-bearing is needed, ‘do a little a lot’. Say, 20 minutes a day of yoga…doing strong standing poses to strengthen the legs and weight-bearing on hands, wrists and arms, if possible. Downward-facing dog pose as pictured in the image above is a winner. It can be done with hands on a chair if wrists are weak or even on forearms. Several repetitions rather than long holding, or done by moving with the breath from cat pose to dog pose.
There are so many ways that we can take the body through movement in yoga, which is so good for bones, especially if you add resistance. Working with resistance challenges you and can help maintain the bone you have and possibly even build it up.
Practicing yoga balancing poses will foster strength and, just as importantly, will foster confidence. This will help reduce the danger of falling.
Osteoporosis can be helped by yoga, but as just one of many possible strings for the bow. Judicious use of weights, barre work, bush and beach walks, tennis, and gardening have become the mainstay of my bone health regime. While it wasn’t easy to hear the diagnosis of a serious condition, it’s been a tap on the shoulder for me. It’s another one of those opportunities we seem to be afforded more and more as we age to recommit to as healthy a lifestyle as is possible.