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What is Osteoporosis and how can Pilates help to prevent it?

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

Did you know that 30% of women over 65 and 70% of women over 75 have osteoporosis? The condition weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. The good news is – Pilates can help! Here’s a quick summary of what it is and how you can prevent it.

1. What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder that causes an imbalance between bone formation and re-absorption. This means there’s an increased risk of fracture, pain, discomfort, postural instability and even a risk of falls.

The skeleton relies on muscles and joints to move. As we get older, bone absorption (the breaking down of bones) begins to exceed bone formation. This bone breakdown happens faster in women going through the menopause because of decreased oestrogen levels. Oestrogen maintains good health in bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

2. What are the risk factors?

Cells in the bone tissue are influenced by health and wellbeing factors, including poor nutrition (for example, a lack of calcium, protein or vitamin D), excessive alcohol intake, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle.

People suffering from certain medical conditions or taking medications (thyroid disease, severe IBS/IBD affecting the absorption of nutrients, lack of oestrogen due to menopause or female athletes who don’t have periods, those with a history of eating disorders or over-exercising) can be at greater risk.

Early diagnosis is important but only one third of vertebral fractures come to clinical attention.

3. Weight-bearing exercise builds bone density

Swimming and cycling aren’t as effective for building bone density as weight-bearing exercise like walking, jumping, or running which is important to prevent falls and preserve muscle strength and bone mass. Balance and coordination work is very effective as is any activity that puts stress on the bones, such as strength training.

4. Pilates exercises build strength and coordination

Pilates and postural work emphasise spinal alignment and develop correct functional movement patterns to support daily living. Exercises that help to build bone density include standing, balance and four-point kneeling exercises.

Variety is good for bones. Standing work can be very beneficial and experts advise you should aim to stand for 2-4 hours a day. Lunges and squats are great for building strength and stability as is resistance work (for example, using bands or weights).

For those with severe osteoporosis, it’s important to practise safe walking, stepping, and turning skills. For example, getting in and out of chairs, up off the floor and stepping forwards, sideways and backwards.

Did you know that standing on one leg for one minute increases the weight load on the bones more than 52 minutes of flat walking?

Which Pilates exercises should you avoid if you have osteoporosis?

· Roll-ups and roll downs

· Rotation and excessive lateral (side) flexion

· Loaded lumbar exercises (curl-ups, lifting head and shoulders off the mat)

· Rolling exercises

Please remember to seek the help of a qualified medical professional before embarking on any exercise programme.

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