The statistics are bone-shaking.
In 2000, around 300 million people aged 65 years and older were suffering from osteoporosis. By 2050, that figure is expected to triple, with a projected total number of hip fractures at 6.26 million globally—almost four-fold the number of cases in 1950. Half the predicted number will come from Asia.
For us Filipinos, the most alarming news is from the International Osteoporosis Foundation Asian Audit. The 2009 study presented in Singapore revealed that a below-average dietary calcium intake among Filipinos (440 mg per day instead of 1,000 mg) has put our women at the lowest level of bone health in Asia.
Laying the foundation
Betty Dy-Mancao, M.D., a physiatrist from Philippine General Hospital, says: “Our bones are like the framework of our house; without good foundation, our house is prone to fall.”
Belinda, 51, learned that the hard way. The only daily exercise that this typical Filipina housewife and mother of four did were chores and raising the kids. Her moderately active lifestyle left her no reason to anticipate any health problems, until an unfortunate fall she suffered while polishing the floor left her more debilitated than expected. Tests done at the hospital revealed a hip fracture—the result of brittle bones from undiagnosed osteoporosis. She underwent a difficult surgery and now manages her pain by taking analgesics, eating a balanced diet, getting adequate rest–and exercising regularly.
Ironic as it sounds, vigorous exercise may be more helpful than harmful for bones. In fact, studies have shown that the risk of bone problems is lesser for active people who perform weight-bearing activities at least three times a week. Gail Dalsky, M.D., an exercise-and-bone researcher at the University of Connecticut, says, “Weight training is probably the best form of exercise for building bone density.”
Gravity and the pull of muscles on bone help propagate and stabilize bone cells, so weight-bearing exercises contribute to denser and stronger bones. The more bone mass you build before the age of 30, the better prepared you will be for gradual bone loss later in life.
However, keep in mind that exercise alone cannot prevent or cure bone problems. A calcium-rich diet is important and an appropriate dosage of calcium supplements may be necessary (1,000 mg of calcium daily for all adults and at least 1,200 mg daily for menopausal women). Another must is a healthy dose of sunshine which activates the vitamin D in our skin to help our bones’ absorption of calcium.
Beyond lifestyle changes, a holistic fitness regimen can do wonders for your bones. Chyme Piedad, P.T.R.P., fitness manager of Fitness First Southmall, advises, “Exercise prevents injuries and enhances efficiency of an individual. … A complete exercise is a combination of cardio (heart and lungs), flexibility (joints and tissues), and resistance trainings (muscle and bones).”
Researchers from the University of Arizona say daily 30-minute weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and muscles, improves heart health and enhances coordination and balance. It’s important to remember not to push your limits; consult with a physical therapist or physician before attempting weight-bearing activities beyond what you are used to.
A great way to get bone-building benefits beyond the gym is to incorporate exercise into daily outdoor activity. Here are some tips for every fitness level, adapted from recommendations of the University of Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Sciences: