As baby boomers - those born between 1946 & 1964 move from child-rearing to retirement, they find themselves bombarded by the media with information about osteoporosis. It makes sense, considering 75 million American men and women age 50 and older in Europe, the USA and Japan have osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia. So between news articles about calcium and vitamin D; along with adverts for medication as well as the benefits of “weight-bearing exercise,” showing up everywhere, we're all hearing a great deal about this epidemic.
Nobody seems to agree on the best path to take, the research appears contradictory. The only thing everyone agrees on is the benefit of exercise for Osteoporosis sufferers. Not only will exercise help maintain and build strong bones, it can improve balance and reflexes thereby prevent falls, the most dangerous threat to those with fragile bones. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, 60% of those who fracture a hip still cannot walks independently a year later. Clearly the goal is to stay strong, agile and upright.
As Pilates has gained recognition in the medical and mainstream realms as a beneficial form of exercise to address every concern from back pain to love-handles, boomers have jumped on the bandwagon. Specifically, many have heard Pilates is a great bone-strengthening addition to a fitness regime. However if Osteoporosis or Osteopenia is a concern care must be taken when exercising. In particular exercises that require flexion (forward bending) of the spine need to be avoided. This type of movement has been proved (Mayo Clinic 1984) unsafe for those suffering with the condition, increasing the potential for spinal fractures.
Alignment is a major feature in all Pilates classes. Elongating the spine, setting it up with the Pelvis, Hips, legs, feet, shoulders and head. What better way to combat slouching than to focus on posture and spinal decompression? In addition, breathing and concentration are crucial to every exercise. When you are grounded in your mind your body will respond accordingly. With this added awareness and concentration you may be less likely to trip.
Balance and control play a large role in the Pilates repertoire. Whether you're on the mat or using the Professional Pilates equipment. Pilates is a whole body experience promoting symmetry in muscles together with good body mechanics. With the continuous emphasis on the deep abdominals (core) those deep stabilising muscles in the low back and pelvis. When these muscles are active and effective enough to support the body in movement, less effort is needed to maintain and upright posture reducing the risk of falling.
So should you avoid Pilates if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia? Certainly not. You do however need to ensure your teacher is well trained, with experience dealing with your condition. Consider attending a class geared toward those with the condition, especially if it's a group. At the very least, avoid the rolling exercises or ones that involve bending forward or uncontrolled movement. Also, while lying on your back, keep your head on the ground, perhaps with a small towel underneath, when others are lifting their heads off the mat. A good teacher will always give this option even for those without bone density issues.
On the positive side, all exercises done lying on your side or stomach, as well as on hands and knees, are excellent to do. Just inform your teacher before class about your situation. Private Pilates sessions are excellent for those with osteoporosis and osteopenia for the reasons mentioned above as well for the increase in flexibility. You just need to be aware of necessary modifications, as well as knowing that your teacher is knowledgeable . The benefits of Pilates are numerous just take responsibility for your condition.
Exercise is recommended by the Osteoporosis Society - it's a proven way to maintain quality movement.
For further information and help with Pilates and Osteoporosis contact me at Nuala@nualacoombspilates.com