One of the most common topics we address with our clients is osteoporosis. Lifestyle changes to build healthier bones should start at any age! There is no right time to start to worry about developing osteoporosis, but with the right movement it doesn't have to be a concern.
This may or may not come as a surprise, but building bone density starts decades before osteoporosis is a concern. The good news is it's never too late to start building bone density even if you've already been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
How Bone Growth Works
Fun fact: Bone cells take about 10 years to completely turn over, so every 10 years your skeleton looks completely different!
Bone, just like any other tissue in the body, continuously undergoes a process of new cell growth and old cell breakdown. Different factors, mostly lifestyle choices, change this process and may start to cause problems with healthy bone formation.
Osteoporosis doesn't impact all bones equally, which indicates areas of low bone density aren't being stimulated to grow for a variety of reasons, like inadequate loading (or movement). Certain types of stress to the bone caused by movement and weight-bearing stimulate new cell growth.
So, what stimulates cells to grow?
We will try to make this explanation as interesting as we can. Mechanical deformation, like forces from gravity, ground reaction, and muscle contraction, stimulates bone growth and resorption. All these forces are generated by movement! Just by going for a walk you can send your cells the signals they need to grow.
Muscles attach to our bones in order to move us around. This means bone responds to the movement of our muscles as well as the impact of bearing weight. When the muscle contracts and pulls on the bone, internal forces cause the bone tissue to resist this pulling action. In physics, this is called stress. Stress to the bone stimulates mechanical signaling within the bone, telling it to lay down extra calcium in the areas under stress.
However, putting bone under stress causes positive change only up to a certain point. Once the bone reaches stress that it cannot resist, failure of the bone results in one or more fractures. So, the more positive stress we create, the more the bone adapts and the higher the threshold for a fracture will be. The more we contract our muscles at increasing higher loads, the more bone growth we stimulate. Pretty cool, right?
What You Can Do to Build Bone Density Today
Now you might find yourself wondering how you can create more positive stress to build strong, healthy bones. The great news is you have no shortage of options!
Several factors determine bone density, including nutrition, hormones, and activity levels. While food choices and even certain medications help improve bone density, movement is the most overlooked component of an osteoporosis prevention program.
With that being said, when it comes to building bone density, not all exercise is created equal. For example, swimming might be a great exercise for your heart and lungs but is too low impact for building healthy bones. The types of movement chosen for bone health are very important.
We've mentioned before how body alignment may not matter so much for chronic pain but is so important in terms of your body's function. Osteoporosis is an excellent example of when body alignment matters!
Your skeleton requires full-weight bearing in order to maximize bone density, meaning your alignment needs to be vertical. Daily habits, like excessive amounts of time spent sitting in chairs, alter our alignment. Bone density is impacted by shoe choices, walking mechanics, and the types of exercises we choose to do. For example, wearing a heeled shoe forces the pelvis to push forward changing the way our feet, knees, and hips bear the weight of our torso. For every one degree of heel that is worn, there is one degree of spine, hip, and knee joint reaction (have we convinced everyone to ditch the heels yet?!). Standing with the pelvis pushed forward or your trunk leaning forward changes the weight-bearing forces to the bones.
Start building bone density today by exploring body alignment, different footwear options, and getting more walking into your day. We suggest starting with stretching, most importantly the calf stretch, and seeing a trained professional to assist you with walking mechanics and footwear choices. And remember, it's never too late or too early to start!