Osteoporosis & the risk factors
Reductions in bone mineral density are a concern because they increase the likelihood of fractures and falls. This can result in ongoing problems for individuals and increased reliance on the healthcare system. Related to osteoporosis but less severe is osteopenia, which can be a warning sign for an individual’s chance of developing osteoporosis.
There are several well-known risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis. The most prominent risk factors include:
- Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies
- Physical inactivity
- Low body weight
- Alcohol consumption
- Hormone therapies related to breast and prostate cancers.
Women are most at risk of osteoporosis with 29% of women aged over 75 developing the condition. The high prevalence of osteoporosis in this age group can be linked to menopause, which causes a change in hormone levels. Oestrogen, which is fundamental for bone health, declines during menopause leading to a loss of bone density. Similarly, breast cancer survivors have a 15% greater risk of experiencing a bone fracture due to hormone therapy reducing oestrogen levels. Contrary to popular belief men do suffer from the condition with 10% of men aged over 75 developing osteoporosis.
The gold standard for diagnosing osteoporosis is a DEXA scan. A DEXA scan is a specialised X-ray designed to give an accurate measure of body composition including bone mineral density. If you are interested in having a DEXA scan to assess your bone health and risk for osteoporosis, it is worth discussing this with your doctor as there are Medicare Benefits Schemes that can assist certain populations to have the scan. The diagnosis is made by assessing a bone mineral density score which will indicate if you have normal bone mineral density, osteopenia, or osteoporosis.
The latest research has shown that a suitable exercise intervention can stop the decline in bone mineral density, increase muscle strength and improve balance. Collectively these benefits have an impact on decreasing falls risk by up to 42%. Exercise Sports Science Australia suggests that 2 strength training sessions per week will further decrease risk of fracture or falls.
Strength training is recommended for osteoporosis to maintain or improve bone mineral density. Exercises such as squats and deadlifts which allow for an individual to progressively improve their strength lead to great outcomes as they strengthen the hips and the lumbar spine that are high-risk areas for fractures. Upper body focussed exercises including shoulder press have also been shown to improve bone health. Exercises like jogging and jumping can also provide enough load to the bones to initiate a positive change in bone integrity.
Please remember, high-intensity resistance training should always be supervised by an exercise professional like an accredited exercise physiologist (AEP). An AEP can work with you by using exercise to decrease fracture and falls risk for people with osteoporosis or osteopenia.