12 Aug Why Yoga for Osteoporosis?
When I think of bones, I usually think of skeletons at Halloween, not the bones that are carrying me around all day. Many of us walk around without taking much time to think about what our bones do for us. Without them, we’d be living the life of an earthworm squirming our way through the world…the view would definitely be different.
Bones keep us upright. They provide support for our bodies and help form our shape. Although they’re very light, bones are strong enough to support our entire weight…until they are not. If you pause to imagine your inner world, do you see your bones as brittle and fragile, or as strong, resilient, and tough? The reality might be somewhere in between, depending on your age and on your daily habits of life and exercise. Unfortunately for many of us, there is a silent disease that strikes often without warning…Osteoporosis.
About 54 million Americans have Osteoporosis or low bone density. Osteoporosis related fractures are responsible for more hospitalizations than heart attacks, strokes, and breast cancer combined. Some of the medications used to treat osteoporosis even cause spontaneous fractures!
As a 47 year old female at risk for osteoporosis, I want another way. And there is another way. The research has shown that daily yoga can help reverse osteoporosis and osteopenia.
What is Osteoporosis anyway, and why is it bad?
Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become more and more likely to break due to low bone mineral density. Osteoporosis typically causes fractures in the spine, hip, femur, or wrist. You may not know you have it until you break a bone.
A few statistics on osteoporosis:
- On average a woman’s bones stop getting stronger and start weakening quite dramatically between age 30 and 40
- Studies suggest approximately one in two women and one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis
- Twenty-five percent of the people that have hip fractures die. Another 25 percent enter a nursing home never to leave (1).
How does yoga improve bone health?
Put simply, we have osteoblasts (the construction workers) that build bone and osteoclasts (the janitors) that reabsorb or clean up the bone. As we age, the janitors dominate so less bone is being produced (for a fun visual, see this meme here). In order to increase osteoblasts, we have to stimulate the bones.
Here’s where yoga thrives! Yoga stresses the bones, in turn stimulating them.
Yoga stimulates the bone with isometric contraction at almost every conceivable angle for long periods of time. Here’s how:
Yoga leverages your own body weight for an ideal amount of time at many different angles. Holding poses for 20-30 seconds activates bone growth. The angles of the poses provide needed stress to various parts of the bone. All of this makes those little construction workers get to work. Wolff’s Law explains it well. It says the structural support of bone follows the lines of force to which that bone is exposed. The bone cells get stimulated through being compressed or twisted or elongated. Then they produce more bone mass until that bone gets strong enough to resist the pressure.
Now that the construction workers are back on the job, let’s focus on the other factors affecting osteoporosis . . . weak muscles, poor balance, and limited mobility. These issues all increase the risk of falling, the biggest concern people face with osteoporosis.
News flash…practicing yoga makes you stronger, increases balance and expands mobility.
These are most important in staying upright, reducing the risk of falling. Running is great, but it’s not helping significantly with your balance. Tai Chi is wonderful, but not building much bone. Any exercise is good, but yoga stands apart. It provides an all-in-one solution for bone health. It is low impact and safe on the joints. It makes us stronger, more balanced, more flexible human beings. Further, yoga eases anxiety, improving mental health and overall quality of life.
Here’s what the research says…
A study on the effects of yoga on osteoporosis was done by Dr. Loren Fishman in 2015. His study published in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation concluded that there is qualitative evidence suggesting improved bone quality as a result of the practice of yoga. The participants were taught 12 specific yoga poses with modifications for safety. They practiced these poses once a day. He found that 80 percent of older participants, most of whom had osteoporosis or osteopenia, showed improved bone density in their spine and femurs (2).
Dr. Fishman is the medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City, the author of eight books, and the author or editor of more than 70 academic articles. He has been included in numerous “Best Doctors” lists and has lectured widely in the U.S. and abroad. He spoke at the 1st International Conference on Yoga for Health and Social Transformation in January 2011.
Yes, practicing yoga is good for your bones and can reverse osteoporosis.
What are the other benefits of yoga?
The better news…
Yoga is not just an exercise program. It is a practice of connecting body, mind, and spirit. It has many positive benefits on top of stimulating bone growth.
- Improved athletic performance
- Protection from injury
- Improved cardiovascular function
- Reduced risk of metabolic dysfunction
- Enhanced flexibility and joint function
- Weight reduction
- Better mental health
Taking just 30 minutes a day to practice yoga can bring you so many benefits. I don’t know about you but I want to continue to do the activities I love well into the future. I want to get on the floor one day with my grandkids. I’ve chosen yoga to support my bone health. I hope you will consider yoga too. Remember to use a certified yoga instructor who understands alignment and the modification necessary for yoga for osteoporosis. If you would like more info or a one on one session, please contact me.
Certified Yoga Teacher
Yoga for Bone Health Coach
Alignment & Love Yoga
Aimee regularly partners with Kinetik to offer workshops on Yoga for Bone Health. Want to reach Aimee? Send us an email, and we will connect you!
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- National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Osteoporosis Fast Facts.” https://cdn.nof.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Osteoporosis-Fast-Facts.pdf. Accessed June 16, 2020.
- Lu YH, Rosner B, Chang G, Fishman LM. Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss. Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2016;32(2):81-87. doi:10.1097/TGR.0000000000000085.