What causes osteoporosis and how can it be prevented?


Did you know that in South Africa, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men may develop osteoporosis in their lifetime? According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa, this disease which causes bone density to reduce, weaken and fracture the internal framework of the body, can begin as early as age 25 for women.

What is osteoporosis?

The most simplified meaning of osteoporosis is having porous bones. At a microscopic level, a person with osteoporosis will have gaps or holes in their bones which are much larger than healthy bones.

What is the cause?

Our bodies are designed with active tissue that is constantly being remodelled and when the creation of new bone is not fast enough to replace the removal of old bone, our internal framework becomes brittle and prone to pain and fractures.

What are the risk factors?

Doctors call it a silent disease since there is no external indication that one’s bones are weakening. Many may not even know that they have osteoporosis until they’ve experienced severe back pain or a fracture.

According to Mayo clinic, various factors can increase the likelihood of developing the disease, including unchangeable factors such as body frame size, age, sex, race, and family history. Studies show that having a small body frame, being Caucasian, being a woman, and being older, increase your chances of developing the disease.

Other factors such as hormone imbalances, lifestyle choices, low calcium intake, eating disorders, long-term use of steroids, and medical conditions such as cancer, IBS, lupus and celiac disease also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.

What are the treatments for osteoporosis?

While some risks are out of our control, there are certain lifestyle choices that we can make to enhance bone density and prevent or delay early signs of osteoporosis or osteopenia:

Consuming bone-healthy foods

Several studies highlight the relationship between healthy bone density and a nutrient-rich diet.

While processed and salty food should be avoided since too much sodium causes the body to lose calcium, foods that are high in calcium such as dark greens, egg yolk, nuts, soya beans, and fish are recommended. Vitamin D is another important nutrient to consider as it helps the body absorb calcium and can be obtained through sun exposure.

Avoiding unhealthy lifestyle habits

Smoking, consuming more than two alcoholic beverages per day, obesity, an inactive lifestyle and bad nutritional habits should all be avoided for the early prevention of osteoporosis. The earlier you start, the better, but any time is good to make positive changes.

Maintaining an active lifestyle

If work requires you to sit for most of the day, you may want to consider low-impact physical activity during your lunch break since people who spend a lot of time sitting are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. You can also work movement into your schedule by stepping away from your desk for 5 minutes after every seated hour or opt for a standing desk.

Prolonged sitting causes the joints to stiffen and tissues to weaken. On the other hand, exercises that promote balance and good posture are helpful to increase bone density, and strong muscles reduce the likelihood of falls and injuries.

According to BODYTEC’s head of training, Michael Burbidge, the biggest advantage of whole-body EMS training in regard to osteopenia or osteoporosis is the low-impact nature of the exercise. “This does not mean that there is no injury risk at all but rather that the risk of injury is very low.  Falls are of high risk for older individuals, especially those suffering from osteopenia or osteoporosis and while it is not known whether whole-body EMS increases bone strength, a reduced fall risk due to stronger muscles (particularly the core muscles) naturally reduces injury risk in the outside world.”

Want to learn more about EMS training? Head to our research hub, here.

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