You’re never too old to improve bone and muscle strength, even if you actually suffer from osteoporosis. Before-and-after research with very elderly people has demonstrated the benefit of bone-loading exercise and also shown how mobility and muscle power enhance even simple activities like getting up from a chair, lifting parcels or going up stairs. Of course these benefits also reduce the risk of falling and suffering a fracture. Should you have the bad luck to fall, you’re less likely to suffer serious consequences.
One study showed that 30 exercising women with an average age of 84 showed bone gains of over 2% compared to an inactive group who lost over 3% of bone thickness when monitored by researchers for three years. What makes this study remarkable is that they did it sitting down! Their routine included knee lifts, toe taps, arm lifts, sideways bends, leg spreads. The exercisers worked out for 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week.
Thin old people are more likely to fracture their hips when they call than their plumper contemporaries. Some researchers suspect that the fat acts as a kind of shock absorber. Hence the arrival of the energy-absorbent hi-protector, a padded device developed in Denmark that can be worn by anyone frail and elderly and at risk of damaging falls.
An 8-week programme of ‘high resistance’ training followed by 10 elderly people in an American residential home resulted in spectacular gains in muscle strength. Muscles were more flexible afterwards too, another vital weapon in the fight against falling.
Improvements in muscle strength can come within weeks of doing regular daily exercise, but bone-building takes longer. There may even be an initial period when bone gets slightly thinner, but after a year, improvement should be discernible.
If you already suffer from osteoporosis, there’s no need for us to remind you of the discomfort and pain you experience.
If you have the disease in your spine, particularly in your lower-middle back below the ribs, you may be permanently bent over and unable to hear weight through your spine. In this case, we know, exercises are difficult and in some cases impossible to perform.
The best treatment for sever sufferers is pain-relieving drugs prescribed by the doctor and rest in bed with a pillow under the head for support. One pillow if possible though we know some people can only find relief with more. Add a pillow under the knees and relax with legs straight if you find that more comfortable.
Most people, however, can benefit from some exercise, and I have designed our Osteo-Relief Bone Strengthening specifically for osteoporosis sufferers. Do them on a regular basis for at least 3 months before you expect to see any improvement. Don’t be discouraged if you feel initial discomfort. After a fall or operation, it is often difficult to overcome the pain barrier – the fear of pain, in fact. But remember the rewards in terms of regaining mobility, strength and independence, and try to stick it out.
If you have any doubts, show the exercises to your doctor or consult a trained physiotherapist. The extra stress on bones during exercise is not appropriate for people with advanced osteoporosis and could result in fracture. Seek medical advice if you think you are at risk before attempting Osteo-Relief Bone Strengtheners.
People without osteoporosis who have been actively exercising during their middle years can, and indeed do, continue at a high level of physical activity through out life, but late-starters need to take it nice and easy, putting the emphasis on walking, swimming, dancing and low-key routines like the one we suggest here.
A brisk daily walk is healthy and beneficial for anyone and everyone. Not only does it increase our stamina, strengthen our heart, improve circulation and tone up our muscles, but it’s a Bone Booster too. A simple walk costs nothing and gives excellent results – so off your bottom and get those boots walking. Keep to a brisk pace and walk for at least 20 minutes. You should puff a bit!
THE EXERCISE PROGRAMME
The following 5 exercises are particularly beneficial if you already suffer from osteoporosis. They will help strengthen your spine and correct your posture
- NECK RETRACTION
Lie on your bed with your knees bent and a small pillow to support your head. Fix your eyes on a spot above you, and simply push with your neck and stick your chin up and out. Retract your chin and pull it down into your chest as far as you can. Continue with this ‘chicken neck’ exercise for 1 minute. As you progress over the weeks, remove the pillow but keep your knees bent and continue the exercise for 1 minute. Aim eventually to lie out on the floor without the pillow and with legs straight to do the exercise.
- SPINAL ROLL
Lie on your bed, preferably without a pillow, with both knees bent and arms out to your sides, opalms down. Keep your feet in contact with the bed and roll both knees together over to your right side as far as comfortable. Try to look over to your left hand. Hold 2-4 seconds. Slowly bring your knees back to the centre, and carefully roll them over to your left side and try to look right. Hold 2-4 seconds. Keep your upper back, shoulders and arms in contact with the bed throughout the exercise. Aim to do 4 rolls to each side, and eventually to do the exercise on the floor.
- FORWARD LIFT
To strengthen your tummy muscles like on your bed with your head supported by a small pillow. Bend your knees up, feet down flat on the bed. Place your left hand behind your head (or neck), and extend your right hand on to your right thigh. Breathe out and lift your head and shoulders up, sliding your hand up to your knee. Breathe in and relax back down. Continue 4 times, then change hands and repeat 4 more lifts with your left hand on your left thigh. Aim eventually to do this exercise on the floor without a pillow, but always with your knees bent.
- BOTTOM LIFT
Lie on your bed without a pillow, with your knees bent and feet flat down. Place yur hands up on your thighs. Clench your bottom and lift it up off the bed. Hold for 2-4 seconds and carefully relax back down. Repeat 8 times, and try eventually to do this exercise on the floor.
- PRESS BACK
This exercise is best performed on the floor. Lie out on your tummy, chin to floor. Place your hands under your shoulders with your fingers turned slightly inwards. Breathe out and push yourself back to lift your shoulders and chest up off the floor. Breathe in and relax back down. (Keep your chin facing down as you lift up,) Repeat this exercise 8 times.
When you first start this exercise you may need several pillows under your tummy in order to get comfortable and completely straight before attempting to bend backwards.
Lie on your back with your head supported by one pillow, (more may be necessary in severe cases). Place another pillow behind your knees and thighs to help relieve pain. Place your hands comfortably on your rtummy. Breathe deeply, taking the breath into your abdomen, and feel the rise and fall of your tummy with your fingers. Close your eyes and relax.
It is often difficult for those who have vertebral factures, with painful, tender spines and limited mobility, to lie on their backs. You may find it easier to try an alternative starting position for some of the exercises, such as sitting, from which you can do head and upper back exercises.
People who have already fractured their vertebrae can also benefit from exercise, to strengthen the muscles around the hips and knees – strong muscles in the legs help to prevent falls, which may well lead to fractures.
For information and further specific illustrated exercises for osteoporosis sufferers, contact the National Osteoporosis Society for their booklet Exercise and Physiotherapy in the Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis.
DAILY LIVING MAKING IT EASIER
Walk tall is tough advice if you suffer from a curved upper spine, but, nevertheless, it’s exactly what you need. Get into he habit of checking that your shoulders are down and back, your chin pulled in and your weight evenly distributed. Hold your abdomen in if you can. Check your posture by standing against a wall:heels touching it, no hollow back. If you can’t get your head straight against the wall at first, keep practising.
Don’t slump when you sit, get your bottom well back into the chair. A soft, low armchair may seem like luxury, but if it makes you sink too low and rounds your back, change to something more upright with a high, firm back. A rolled towel at he back of your neck and another supporting the small of your back will enhance comfort and remind you to sit upright when reading. Make sure your feet are resting easily on he floor, and when you get up, resist bending forward. Keep as upright as possible and then stand up straight. You may find that at first you need to hold on to something as you get up, but gradually you’ll be able to do it without the help.
A supporting mattress doesn’t have to be iron-hard, and you don’t need special orthopaedic types. On the other hand, it shouldn’t sag. Buy a new one if yours shows signs of wear, and if it feels a bit on the hard side after that comforting sag, put a quilt over it and sleep on that to soften the blow.
Practise getting up and down from the floor once a day. It will help lessen the impact should you accidentally fall.
Start by standing beside a steady, upright chair, holding the back with the left hand. Get down on your left knee, keeping your back straight, then take the right knee down, letting go of the chair and go down on all fours. Swing your bottom over to the floor on the right and sit down, Stand up in your own time, using the chair as support.
Guard your back when lifting anything heavy. Get as close to the object as possible, go down on one knee to pick it up, hug the load to your abdomen and lift with the strength from your legs by pushing down firmly with both feet. Don’t try to take on too-heavy loads.
Remember, calcium helps reduce bone loss in older women. Recommended daily allowances are give on page… and calcium supplements have been shown to have a protective effect.
Poor diet not only leads to malnutrition and muscle weakness, it can also mean shrunken jaws and loose-fitting false teeth. Cooking for one doesn’t have to be a chore. Even if someone else does the shopping for you, when it’s cold and wintry outside, make sure you give them a shopping list that includes daily helpings of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and dairy produce, and not too much fried food.
How to prevent falls
- Get rid of loose rugs, avoid slippery floors.
- Get better lighting, especially in hall and on stairs.
- Have a good grip handle on bath, and a non-slip mat in it.
- Get eyesight checked regularly.
- Keep a hall or landing light on at night.
- Watch out for uneven pavements – use a walking stick to help keep your balance.
- Wear well-fitting, supporting, non-slip shoes.