Osteoporosis is one of the most prevalent yet under-estimated chronic conditions present today. In the U.S. alone, over 40 million people are affected. That's more than half of everyone over the age of 50!
Our bones are not static and lifeless, but quite the opposite. Bone tissue is in constant turnover, as old bone breaks down and is replaced with new bone. As we age, our bones can start to break down faster than they rebuild, resulting in osteoporosis (which literally translates to "porous bones"). Yikes!
As a result of low bone mass, minor stresses can easily cause fractures in weakened bone. Osteoporosis causes about 1 million fractures each year, most commonly in the spine, hips and wrists. Women over 50 are more likely to fracture a hip than to develop breast, uterine, OR ovarian cancer. Men over 50 are more likely to fracture a hip than to develop prostate cancer. About 25% of hip fractures turn out to be fatal, due to complications of extended immobility (blood clots, infection, etc). Clearly this is an issue that cannot be ignored!
One of the most effective ways to encourage bone regrowth is through appropriate exercise. While certain weight-bearing activities can help, many of them put the joints at risk. Medication is also an option for those with loss of bone density, but often comes with intense gastrointestinal side effects which discourage some folks from taking their pills.
Luckily, yoga is an effective and accessible way to stimulate bone growth while keeping the joints safe.
A study published by Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation* determined that "bone mineral density improved in the spine, hips, and femur of the 227 moderately and fully compliant patients".
Not only can yoga slow down or even reverse bone density loss, it can also reduce the risk of a fracture by reducing the risk of a fall!
Yoga is known to improve range of motion, strength and stability, balance, and coordination. If someone with osteoporosis is able to stabilize themselves and not fall in the first place, their risk for a serious or life-threatening fracture is greatly reduced.
While yoga is generally very safe for those with osteoporosis, special precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of injury. An individual's medical history, experience with yoga, and other injuries or conditions must be taken into consideration when starting a practice. As with any exercise program, professional training and guidance is necessary to ensure an effective and safe yoga practice.