My bones are STRONG. If you say that to yourself right now, does it feel true?
Although it’s important to build and maintain strength at any age, let’s be honest that youth can be a little more forgiving and consequence free! As you age, and whether you have thought about it or not, muscle mass and bone density can start to decline. That doesn’t mean you should just give up! There are things that can be done to reverse this or slow it down. The good news is that yoga is one of them.
Yoga promotes bone health whilst decreasing worry and stress levels that can be elevated around recent diagnoses. This makes yoga a multi-faceted approach to befriending your body and mind with benefits that go beyond simply building strength.
Over 1 million Australians have osteoporosis (1). Osteoporosis is a long-term (chronic) disease, which makes your bones less dense and more fragile. If you have osteoporosis, you are more likely to fracture or break a bone if you have a mild injury or minor fall (2). In those aged 50 years and over, 66% have osteoporosis or osteopenia (1).
Exercise & Yoga for Bone Health
You should not be intimidated by exercise if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia. In fact, specific types of exercises are important for improving bone strength. Bones become stronger when a certain amount of impact or extra strain is placed on them. It is recommenced that exercise is supervised, especially when first beginning (3).
Yoga classes are conducted in a supervised environment which make them the perfect choice. Yoga is so much more than an exercise program even though the practice does include a physical component. Yoga poses (asanas) often work against gravity to stimulate bone tissue and include balance training to assist with fall prevention.
Being mindful of excessive twisting using force and extreme forward bending is important. Neither has a place in a yoga class that is promoted as suitable for those with low bone mass density (BMD). However, these ranges of movement should not be avoided completely. After all, these types of action of the body are commonplace in our everyday activities. They simply need to be practiced in a moderate and appropriate way.
Strength Building & Yoga Research
Being strong has a protective effect for conditions such as osteoporotic bone loss so it is worth doing strength work. Science backs up the efficacy of yoga. A 10-year study of 741 participants showed that yoga reverses osteoporotic bone loss. The researchers concluded that a specific set of 12 yoga poses appeared to be a safe and effective means to reverse bone loss in the spine and thigh bone. Evidence suggests improved bone quality because of the practice of yoga (4).
Yoga is a cheap and effective method to improve bone density and is very safe when practiced with a well-qualified teacher or yoga therapist. Research contributor Dr Fishman says, “What no medicine does is give you balance, range of motion, strength, coordination; all of which yoga can offer.” (4).
The practice of yoga may have beneficial effects on bone turnover in postmenopausal women with osteopenia (5). Further studies showed that integrated yoga is a safe mode of physical activity which includes weight bearing as well as non-weight bearing poses, breathing practices, and suryanamaskar (salute to the sun sequence), all of which helps to improve BMD (6).
A 2-year study showed that exercise was effective in reducing fall-related injuries among community-dwelling older women (7). All this points towards yoga being a safe, effective, and relatively low-cost option when it comes to managing your bone health.
It is my hope that all this information encourages you to consider taking up yoga. Giving you the confidence to know that you are well prepared to safely get started. If you are not in our area and would like to know more about our online options, you can find all of that here. Our online library includes practices based on this research so you can practice safely in your own time.
You can also access my free Yoga in 60 Seconds mini-series here with 20+ mini practices to get you started right now.
It is recommended that you check with your health practitioner before starting any form of new exercise, particularly if you have had a long break. To find a yoga teacher or yoga therapist that is suitably qualified and registered to meet minimum standards in your area, you may find the below resources useful.
Resources and support
- You can discuss any concerns about osteoporosis and seek advice from the Musculoskeletal Australia National Help Line — 1800 263 265
- Learn more about how osteoporosis affects women on the Jean Hailes for Women’s Health website or by calling 1800 JEANHAILES (532 642)
- Check your risk factors for developing osteoporosis using the Know your Bones self-assessment tool, developed by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Healthy Bones Australia
- Read about living with osteoporosis and discover strategies that can help you manage your symptoms on the Healthy Bones Australia website
- Ask your GP about the subsidised Strength For Life program (WA based) or similar in your state
- To find a registered yoga teacher or yoga therapist go to Yoga Australia or International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT)
- Yi-Hsueh Lu et al (2016) Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation 32(2):81–87. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4851231/
- J.Balk et al (2009) The Effect of Yoga on Markers of Bone Turnover in Osteopenic Women: a Pilot Study IJYT (2009) 19 (1):63-68. https://meridian.allenpress.com/ijyt/article/19/1/63/138160/The-Effect-of-Yoga-on-Markers-of-Bone-Turnover-in
- Z.S.Motorwala et al (2016) Effects of Yogasanas on osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. International Journal Of Yoga 2016 Jan-Jun 9(1):44–48. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728958/
- Patil R, Kolu P, Raitanen J, et al. Cost-effectiveness of vitamin D supplementation and exercise in preventing injurious falls among older home-dwelling women: findings from an RCT. Osteoporosis Int. 2016;27:193–201. doi: 10.1007/s00198-015-3240-9.