Feeling Delicate

Dear Chris,

I’d like to work out more, but I’m very afraid I may break something. My mother had osteoporosis, and I worry that I might be getting it, too.

Brittle in Burlington

Dear Brittle,

Some decrease in bone density is a normal part of aging. Osteoporosis is a disease where the bone loss is excessive and can lead to pain, fractures, and loss of independence. Although having a family history of the disease is a risk factor, it is only one. Excessive alcohol and caffeine intake, smoking, insufficient dietary calcium and a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors you can control. Because there is a higher chance of bone fractures, pain, and fragility, people with osteoporosis often shy away from physical activity. However, we know that inactivity will lead to de-conditioning of muscles and loss of bone mass.

If there is osteoporosis in your family, then that is even more reason for you to exercise. Studies have shown time and again that performing load-bearing exercise will actually make your bones stronger by increasing bone mass, as well as your muscles, which will support your frame and help reduce the incidence of falls that can cause fractures and loss of independence.

Your program should include cardio-respiratory exercises which are also weight-bearing (such as brisk walking), resistance training, balance, and flexibility exercises. When bones feel a steady force on them such as that done by a rigorous walk or by contracting muscles in resistance training, they respond by increasing their mass to better tolerate the force placed upon them. The increase in bone mass and density will go a long way to protect you from things like hip fractures should you suffer a fall. Hip fractures are one of the main causes of loss of independence and having to be admitted into a long term care facility (or “nursing home”).

While it is safe for you to exercise, there are a couple of things you should remember: Avoid bending your spine too far forward or sideways. In other words, you should not do toe touching exercises, abdominal crunches or deep side bends. However, you can still tighten your abdominal muscles and strengthen your lower back through isometric and extension exercises. A personal trainer who understands how to modify exercises for osteoporosis will be able to help you if you have questions.

For more information on osteoporosis, contact the Osteoporosis Society of Canada.


Information on stayingstrong.ca should not be used for diagnosis, nor should it be considered a replacement for consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.

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