Learn about bone density, bone and arthritic conditions, and the benefits of exercise.
What is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia is defined by bone mineral density that is lower than normal peak bone mineral density but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Bone mineral density is determined by measuring the level of minerals in bones. Bone density or mineral density measurement can help us understand whether or not a person runs a risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is different than osteopenia in that it is the advanced form of bone mineral loss resulting in weak bones capable of fracture without remarkable trauma or incident.
What causes Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?
As we age, our body simply absorbs bone minerals at a pace that overrides our body’s ability to replace bone minerals. When bones lose minerals they become weaker. Bones that lose their mass and density often fracture immaturely. Most of us lose bone mass and strength as we age, which can result in weaker bones, osteopenia and/or osteoporosis. Statistically, women are more likely to lose bone mineral density and develop osteopenia and/or osteoporosis than men. Women are more likely to develop osteopenia and osteoporosis because women have a lower peak bone mineral density and because hormonal changes occurring during menopause speed degeneration of bone mineral density. In addition, hormonal changes in both men and women, specifically estrogen in women and testosterone in men, can assist in the general degeneration of bone structure. As a result of osteoporosis a person can have a fracture before becoming aware that the disease is present. At this point the disease is in its advanced stages and damage can be severe.
In both men and women, the following factors, and others, can all contribute to osteopenia:
- Chemotherapy, or medicines used to treat several conditions, including asthma
- Exposure to radiation
- Being confined to a bed
- Rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease
- Eating disorders or metabolism problems that aid in the restriction of vitamins and mineral absorption
Additionally, having a family history of osteoporosis, history of hormone treatment for prostate or breast cancer, low body weight, being white or Asian, getting limited physical activity, smoking, too little dietary calcium, regularly drinking cola drinks, and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol also increase the risk of osteopenia and, eventually, osteoporosis.
Most of us understand that exercise strengthens our body. Much as we strengthen our muscles by exercising them, adding resistance and executing exercises through a full range of motion, exercise stimulates muscle, bone, joint, and central nervous system strength and endurance. Like muscle, bone is responsible for much of our quality of life. Bone responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Young women and men who exercise regularly generally achieve greater peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) than those who do not. By age thirty most men and women have physically matured. As the process of aging can cause both muscle and bone atrophy—exercise is vital to maintain and increase both muscle and bone mass and strength. After age thirty, men and women begin to lose bone strength and mass. As a result, bone and muscle weakness occurs and can result in increased risk for falling, bone fracture, and osteoporosis. Adult, mature, women and men can help prevent bone loss with regular moderate to strenuous activity and exercise. Exercising allows men and women of all ages to maintain muscle strength, coordination, and balance, all together helping to prevent muscle atrophy, bone weakness, falls and related fractures. Exercise is especially important for adults over fifty and people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
What types of exercise increase bone strength and density?
Generally, the best types of exercise to help mature adults increase bone strength are weight-bearing in nature. Weight-bearing exercises include exercise modalities that require muscles and bones to work together in order to keep your body stable while walking, running, completing ordinary activities of daily living, and lifting or carrying weight. For example, lifting weights, walking, running, jogging, climbing, and racquet sports are all suited toward strengthening both muscle and bone.