Last Friday a student in my seniors’ class asked if yoga could help prevent osteoporosis. I’d researched this subject before, so I didn’t hesitate to respond: The answer is both yes and no. Let me explain.
Osteoporosis is a medical condition that causes bone tissue to deteriorate, resulting in brittle and fragile bones (not to be confused with osteoarthritis, which affects the surrounding joints and tissues). The increase of fractures escalates dramatically in people with osteoporosis, with over 80% of all fractures in Canada being linked to bone fragility. The bones can actually become so weak that they crack or fracture spontaneously, without any reason at all! You can imagine the impact this would have on your self-esteem and personal autonomy.
Most of us have at least heard the word ‘osteoporosis,’ probably in the context of women being at greater risk of getting it. And that research is true: 1 in every 3 women will get this potentially debilitating disease; however, 1 in every 5 men will also suffer from osteoporosis. The number of men may be smaller, but 1 in 5 is still a robust amount. That’s nearly one-quarter (21%) of all Canadian men. Both men and women are wise to be aware of the conditions that might increase (and aid to decrease) their risk.
The Silent Thief
Osteoporosis has been called the “silent thief” because its symptoms often go unnoted until a person fractures a bone, at which point, the only recourse is to prevent further deterioration and manage the pain. Many factors play a role in determining a person’s risk of developing osteoporosis, including heredity, nutrition, and perhaps most importantly, exercise. But not just any exercise.
The type of exercise that strengthens bone tissue must be resistance exercise, such as weightlifting and even running. Although cycling trains cardiovascular health and swimming offers relief from joint pain, neither of these is ideal in helping to prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
What About Yoga?
Which brings us to our original query: what about yoga? Will yoga help to prevent the onset of this potentially degenerative disease? The answer is both yes and no. Styles of yoga today are as vast and varied as their teachers. You can relax and unwind in a pranayama or restorative yoga class and you can work out doing Power Yoga—the difference between the two is night and day. However, by choosing a certain style, or by combining styles, you can get everything you want from your practice, including weight-bearing benefits.
What to Look For
If bone health is at the top of your wellness list, choose dynamic classes like Power Yoga and Vinyasa Flow. These styles use sun salutations as the foundation of the class, which means you will enjoy a cardiovascular workout, too. Now, be aware that the more dynamic classes can be extremely physically demanding and not suitable for absolute beginners or students seeking a therapeutic approach. Check with the instructor to be sure you’re in the right place before signing up.
Iyengar Yoga is an ideal choice because it welcomes students of all ages (and challenges them equally!) and emphasizes proper alignment with longer holds in standing postures. Standing poses specifically build strength and stamina and certainly qualify as “weight-bearing,” as students bear the weight of their own body against the pull of gravity. That they lengthen opposing muscle groups while honing balance and stability is an added bonus.