Osteoporosis is a progressive condition that almost 3 million people in the UK alone are estimated to have, with many individuals completely unaware they even have the disease.
Typically developing over several years, the condition causes your bones to become weak and fragile as bone loss occurs at a higher rate than it is replaced.
It can occur at any age but those over 50+ are more at risk, with women in particular at a higher risk in the years following menopause, as declining levels of oestrogen can be a leading cause of rapid bone loss.
It is rare to get symptoms in the early stages of osteoporosis and most people with the condition won’t know they have it until a fall or injury causes a bone to break and the bone density can be seen on scans.
Following a diagnosis of osteoporosis, it can be confusing as to what you can and can’t do to prevent fractures. With weight-bearing exercise one of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis, leading UK gym chain PureGym wanted to help those at risk or living with a diagnosis know the best way to exercise safely with this condition.
PureGym spoke to Susan Centonze, aged 60, who was diagnosed with osteoporosis in early 2021 after a fall where she broke her collarbone, to find out more about how the condition has affected her lifestyle, and what changes she has made in the gym to minimise its impacts on her body.
Susan commented: “I had a fall where I broke my shoulder after landing badly on my arm. Having visited the hospital for treatment, the consultant flagged that my bones didn’t look how they should on my X-ray and so sent me for a DEXA scan (a bone density scan), which came back showing severe bone loss and osteoporosis.
“It was a really frustrating time for me as I lost all my independence for six weeks
, while I recovered. Not being able to cook, drive or wash my hair on my own was certainly annoying, but not being able to exercise was a major grievance too!
Just before it happened, I’d joined my gym and gotten into a great routine that I was really enjoying, and being unable to attend while my fracture healed really affected me.
“Since my diagnosis, I have had to change how I live my life. Although I’m thankfully now back in the gym, I have adjusted the exercises that I do and I take extra care to make sure I’m not at risk of injuring myself while there.
Outside of the gym, I’m also much more careful than I used to be, I don’t go on my husband’s motorcycle anymore, and I definitely don’t say yes to any activities like ice skating for fear of breaking any more bones!”
How to Minimise the Impact of Osteoporosis
Whether you’re at higher risk of developing osteoporosis later in life, or you’ve already been diagnosed, there are steps you can take to prevent and minimise its impacts.
These include exercising regularly, eating as healthy as possible, including foods rich in calcium and vitamin D in your diet, and potentially even taking a vitamin D supplement.
- Incorporate strength training exercises into your fitness routine
Dr. Edward Diget, a PureGym personal trainer and doctor in Milton Keynes advises starting weight training for anyone diagnosed with or at risk of osteoporosis. As your muscles get stronger, they pull harder on the bones which, can help to increase bone density and help them to withstand stress. He commented: “Any weight-bearing activities, such as weight training, are ideal for those with osteoporosis. Resistance training using rubber exercise bands, dancing, tennis, even walking at a fast pace or power walking with weights, will help to reduce the rate of bone loss.”
- Clear the area around you before starting any exercise
Eddy also recommends keeping your workout area clear as an absolute priority to help prevent falls and fractures: “Before you do any exercise, look around you to make sure the area is clear of anything you could fall over, or fall on, like leftover weights or benches that haven’t been put away.”
- Use a personal trainer, or ask for a free gym induction
If you’re new to exercise or not sure what to do, Eddy suggests opting for a personal trainer
,or gym induction to make sure you’re using the correct equipment, and in the right way: “Personally, I would always suggest you have a free induction on using gym equipment if you have been or are diagnosed with osteoporosis. A personal trainer with several years of experience in the fitness environment will be best placed to advise you on what to avoid, for example, using heavy weights or high-impact activities like using a treadmill. There’s plenty of other workouts you can do instead.”
PTs who have undergone a GP Exercise Referral qualification will have the knowledge needed to work with clients who have medical conditions including osteoporosis.
- Train as regularly as you can manage
Susan was already attending her local gym regularly, but since her diagnosis, she has increased the frequency of her sessions. She adds: “I would recommend anyone of any age to get into the gym, if possible. Start small and then work your way up slowly.
“I take things very carefully, and always try not to overdo it! Strength-building exercises have worked really well for me personally, like lunges and squats. I increased my sessions in the gym to help strengthen my bones, and I also modified what I do – taking lots of advice from my personal trainer on exercises to include and to avoid, to prevent any more breaks.”
Eddy also recommends strength training at least three times a week to help maintain your bone strength and avoid further injury: “How often you train obviously comes down to the individual, as everyone’s availability is different. It’s better to do something than nothing, but three times a week is a good goal. The three clients I have that have all been diagnosed with osteoporosis train with me once a week, and then come in on their own another two times to do further weight-bearing exercises or resistance training. The rest of the week you can choose to be active in other ways that suit your lifestyle, like cycling or walking.”
- Join the Osteoporosis Society
Susan also recommends joining the Osteoporosis Society, she commented: “I joined the society to get clued up on my condition, and I also followed them on Instagram for further tips and advice. They share lots of information that I find really useful! Things like upping your protein intake and tips on getting as much calcium-rich food into your diet as possible.”
- Tailor your diet
Eddy also stresses the importance of your diet in helping to manage osteoporosis: “Vitamin D is the most obvious nutrient we need more of if diagnosed with the condition. It’s incredibly important for aiding in the digestion of calcium and can be found in fish, eggs, liver, bacon and milk – among many more foods.
You have five main vitamins that the body needs, in order to function at its prime. If these are out of sync it can contribute massively to a breakdown of your body’s ability to work properly. Whether you have or haven’t been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it’s a good idea to ensure you’ve got enough of the following in your diet:
– Calcium (can be found in milk, cheese, and nuts)
– Potassium (can be found in bananas, spinach, potatoes, and mushrooms)
– Sulphur (can be found in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes)
– Sodium (can be found in salami, pickles, celery, and olives)
– Chloride (can be found in tomatoes, lettuce, and seaweed)
The good news is, it’s a case of adding more into your diet, not taking things away, so it shouldn’t feel hard to make these dietary changes.”
- Start now
Don’t wait until you have a diagnosis to start changing your lifestyle. Diet and exercise can help to prevent osteoporosis, as well as improve balance and reduce the likelihood of falls as you age. While you’re never too old to start, the earlier the better.