How shocked were you when your doctor told you that you had osteoporosis?
We’ve all seen the commercials on TV of little old ladies hunched over walkers. As this image runs through your mind, you think, “that’s not me!” As the diagnosis sinks in you grow both a little angry and more concerned.
You wouldn’t be the first woman to leave the doctor’s office wondering: Can osteoporosis be reversed?
Women, Menopause, and Osteoporosis
Women are far more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Comparatively speaking, women start out with smaller, thinner bones than men. This puts us at a disadvantage to start.
And then as women age, the changes in our hormones (mainly the decrease of estrogen) means that our bodies don’t produce as many osteoblasts. These are the cells responsible for bone production.
This means that as women age our bone health naturally becomes more fragile (literally!!).
Are osteoporosis drugs a cure?
Let’s face it: with an aging population, osteoporosis drugs are big business. Given the frequency with which we see ads on TV and in magazines about them, it seems like they must be miracle workers.
There is good evidence that the drugs, which are called bisphosphonates, do improve bone health. These bisphosphonates reduce fracture risk and increase bone mineral density. They also lower bone resorption, the process by which the bone releases calcium into the bloodstream (rather than retaining it as in healthy bones). All of these are good things!
But here’s the catch: fracture risk includes more factors than bone density and resorption. In other words, these drugs can contribute to positive bone health, but they are not the complete answer.
And, no, they cannot reverse osteoporosis on their own.
What if I told you there was something that works even better than a pill for beating osteoporosis?
What if I told you that magic bullet was FREE?
According to a study in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, exercise offers benefits for fighting osteoporosis that go beyond pharmaceuticals.
Bone strengthening activities like weight bearing exercise is a key component of a bone health program.
Lifting weights and resistance training are a great bone strengthening activities. The types of exercises you can do with simple, inexpensive resistance tubes and dumbbells are fantastic for boosting bone health.
Even better, these resistance exercises have other benefits for fighting symptoms of perimenopause. (Did you know exercise can help reduce hot flashes?)
Although weight training cannot reverse osteoporosis, it can prevent the disease from progressing. That’s great news!
And it’s rarely too late to start a weight training program! Reach out to a certified personal trainer who specializes in working with perimenopausal women for the most effective program for you.
There are five major ways exercise contributes to bone health in ways osteoporosis drugs do not:
- Exercise promotes osteogenesis (bone formation). This means new bone can form, and that’s an important marker of bone (and whole body) health.
- Exercise builds bone strength. Isn’t stronger bones what we really want?
- Exercise improves bone geometry, which is the structural arrangement of the bone itself. Think of it this way: is it harder to tear a cereal box or a shipping box? The corrugation of the shipping box is like the improved structural arrangement of bone.
- Exercise reduces fall risk by improving gait, balance, and neuromuscular communication. Simply put: the more you move, the easier it is for you to move. The easier it is for you to move, the less likely you are to fall.
- Exercise reduces comorbidity because of the correlation between regular exercise and weight-related illnesses.
(And BONUS, exercise also lowers bone resorption!)
Weight bearing exercise can prevent osteoporosis
Each of the five ways exercise contributes to bone health are all independent of bone density. Taken together, they provide a much more comprehensive picture of bone health than bone density and resorption alone. This means that exercise is an excellent method of preventing osteoporosis.
Reducing fracture risk should address all of the factors of bone health: bone density, resporption, osteogenesis, bone strength, and bone geometry. Thus, exercise contributes to bone health in a more broad and comprehensive way than bisphosphonates alone.
Don’t underestimate the power of exercise for your bone health!
Too boring for you? Ice skating is a fantastic way to improve your bone health—and it’s great for your cardiovascular system and vestibular (balance) system, too! Really, any exercise you do standing is a great way to begin working on your bone health.
Regular exercise contributes to bone health because it addresses five aspects of comprehensive bone health. So go get moving today!
Can Osteoporosis Be Reversed?
If your doctor has told you that you have osteopenia, there’s still hope! Osteopenia is low bone mass. And because bone is living tissue, incorporating more weight bearing exercise can help to strengthen the bone mass you still have.
Osteoporosis can be reversed, but only when a comprehensive treatment plan is in place. Even so, do not expect to regain bone mass or density to the levels you once had them. Treatment plans for osteoporosis often include exercise, lifestyle changes, and medication– which is costly. Osteoporosis is a disease that affects your overall health.
Your best bet for reversing osteoporosis is to prevent getting it!
Karen Shopoff Rooff is a certified health coach. The Well Balanced Women blog is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please discuss your health issues with a licensed medical practitioner.