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Osteoporosis and exercise: debunking the biggest myth

By October 5, 2021July 5th, 2022Become a better instructor

Osteoporosis, defined as an extreme loss of bone density, is one of the most common age-related conditions. It currently affects more than 200 million men and women worldwide.

Enter it into a Google search and you get a whopping 70.9 MILLION search results. Narrow that search to “osteoporosis and exercise” and you’re still at 43.5 million. That’s no small amount of information to sift through.

And here’s the crux — we know that almost anyone can post anything about any subject. So, when your clients run a search trying to understand more about osteoporosis and exercise, how do they even know what’s true? And how can you help them debunk deep-set myths and offer education in a way that will guide them toward a happier, healthier lifestyle?

Let’s dive right in by addressing the elephant in the room: The most common held belief surrounding osteoporosis and exercise is that low impact, lightweight, gentle exercises are the most beneficial, the “safest,” for clients who suffer from osteoporosis.

And that’s simply NOT true.

While it may seem counterintuitive, those lightweight, gentle movement exercises are going to be way riskier. What osteoporosis clients benefit from most is high-intensity resistance and impact training. Weights are good! Heavy load is good!

The Strength, Impact and Density Correlation

While there’s certainly plenty of misinformation out there, as you’re educating yourself and your clients about osteoporosis and what exercises they’ll benefit from most, take a look at this ReasearchGate study chronicling the connection between bone density and strength. There’s a ton of good stuff in there, but basically, as your clients strengthen their muscles, their bones benefit too! They’re not going to get that same benefit from light weights or light resistance.

And it’s not solely about prevention. The right exercises are safe and effective in treating osteoporosis and increasing bone density too! Studies from Science Direct (here and here), and The American Society for Bone and Mineral Research all demonstrate a direct correlation between mechanical load and management of osteoporosis.

We know these studies, though filled with great facts about exercise and osteoporosis, are also a lot to read through. Not to worry. Raphael and Cloe cover all of this and more in Episode 26 of our Pilates Elephants podcast.

Pilates and Osteoprosis

Many people often feel like osteoporosis is just a normal part of aging, and nothing can truly prevent this, but that’s not true! In fact, prevention starts at a young age. It’s no secret that our bodies do just about everything more efficiently when we are younger. That includes building and managing our bone density. If parents need one more reason to get their kids off the couch and outdoors, this is definitely a big one. Encouraging clients and their families to simply be active and strengthen their muscles is valuable.

So, can Pilates itself help treat osteoporosis? As we consider the invaluable benefits of resistance training in building muscles and couple that with our understanding that research provides a demonstrable correlation between muscle strength and bone density, then the answer is YES! Pilates is one way to improve bone health at any age. In fact, the International Osteoporosis Foundation recommends routine exercise to prevent osteoporosis. Bottom line – Pilates is typically safe and beneficial for individuals already diagnosed with osteoporosis, but clients should be encouraged to talk with their healthcare provider before starting any new exercise routine.