Isometric exercises can play an important role in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
Ever notice how your body responds to lack of exercise? Muscles shrink, your skin gets that flabby look (you know, more wrinkles) and you start feeling, well… sluggish.
If you could take a fantastic voyage inside yourself, you would see your bones becoming more brittle and fragile too.
Unlike machines like your car that decline with use, your muscles, bones, and joints grow stronger with use. One of the most serious results of lack of exercise is osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a preventable, but common disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. It progresses painlessly until a bone breaks leading to falls, surgery, and a whole host of potentially deadly complications as well as chronic pain.
“Studies have shown a 2 to 5 percent loss in bone mass per year in womenover a five-year period during and after menopause… however, as much as 50 percent of a woman’s bone loss over a life span is lost before the onset of menopause,” reports Christiane Northup, MD in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom.
And… its not just women that develop this disease: “2 million American men have osteoporosis, and another 12 million are at risk for this disease. Yet, despite the large number of men affected, osteoporosis in men remains underdiagnosed and underreported,” says the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Your bones are made of living tissue that’s constantly breaking down and rebuilding itself. To stay alive and do their work, bones need minerals like calcium and magnesium, and vitamins like vitamin D.
Plus… they need physical activity to help the bones take in mineral content. Putting force on bones through weight bearing and weight resistance exercises sets up a mini electrical current in the bone. This current termed the “piezoelectric effect” draws calcium, magnesium, and other minerals needed for bone density and strength, reports Northrup.
You probably already know that exercise is good for you, so what’s stopping you? Time? Money – can’t afford the gym or exercise equipment? A health problem that makes exercise hurt, like arthritis?
Then isometric exercises might be the thing for you.
Isometric refer to the type of muscle contraction used during the exercise. “Iso,” means equal and “metric” means measure. With isometric exercises, the length of the muscle doesn’t change and there is no visible movement at the joint.
These exercises involve a muscle contraction against an immovable resistance like pushing against a fixed surface or attempting to lift a fixed object or holding a weight steady. The weight could be your own body weight.
They’re simple to do and can be done most anywhere. Rhythmic breathing and holding the spine in good alignment are key. Rhythmic breathing provides oxygen and prevents unnecessary stress against the heart.
Holding your back straight (but not stiff) with chin tucked in, along with gently tightening lower abdominal muscles and buttock muscles helps stabilize the spine.
Try this one for an afternoon pickup:
- Relax your shoulders.
- Place your hands (palms facing up) underneath your desk surface while keeping your elbows tucked in at your waist.
- Push upward against the desk and hold for ten seconds, then relax for 5 seconds, repeat two or more times.
Isomeric exercises count as one of three types of resistive exercises. The other two are isotonic and isokinetic. Isotonic resistive exercise involves muscle contraction under a constant load as with weight lifting. Isokinetic resistive exercise involves the use of a mechanical device to regulate the rate of the lifting motion as with some types of gym equipment.
Isometric exercises have been shown to be as effective as isotonic and isokinetic exercises for muscle strengthening and increasing bone minerals, reports Robert Swezey, MD in his 1996 study published in Spine.
Plus, they have three big advantages:
- Time: You can do the exercises in as little as 10 minutes per day.
- Less Painful for Sore Joints: They’re relatively pain free for those with joint pain like arthritis or rehabbing an injury (since the joint doesn’t move).
- Cost: They cost little to nothing. When used, equipment is inexpensive (elastic bands, cushions, compressible balls).
Combine isotonic exercises with regular weight-bearing exercises where bone and muscles work against gravity.
The best weight-bearing exercises are those with high-impact like dancing, jogging, high-impact aerobics, and stair climbing. Low-impact exercises like walking, low-impact aerobics work too, but not as well, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
You can also vary your routine with weight training exercises and add in some yoga and Pilates to improve balance and flexibility. Yoga and Pilates naturally incorporate isometric exercise during the holding of some poses.
When beginning, it helps to start with a professionally designed workout. They’re available though TV programs, DVDs, books, and other sources.
I use the OsteoBall Bonefitness Exerciser. It’s really easy to use, you get a full routine of isometric exercises in less than 10 minutes, and best of all they’re science-based to prevent osteoporosis.
Use of a physical therapist or personal trainer can get you started on the right foot. Look for someone who has received training from a credible organization such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA certification) or the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM certification).
Consider these evidence-based tips when designing your overall osteoporosis prevention plan, gleamed from Swezey, Northrup, and National Osteoporosis Foundation.
- The sooner you start exercise the better, preadolescence is best. Exercise starting early in life promotes greater bone growth and improves bone mineralization.
- Avoid bone mineral-depleting substances such as steroids (cortisone), tobacco, high phosphorous drinks like colas and root beers, aluminum-containing antacids, and excessive alcohol intake. Anticonvulsants and certain cancer treatments can deplete bone minerals too.
- Avoid excessive exercise as it can lower testosterone levels in men and estrogen levels in women, both important for bone mineralization.
- Get adequate amounts of these vitamins and minerals daily: Calcium 1,000 to 1,500 IU, Vitamin D 2,000 IU, Beta-carotene 25,000 IU, Vitamin C 2,000 mg, magnesium 400-800 mg, boron up to 12 mg, and manganese 1.5mg, says Northrup.
If over 40, consult with your health provider before beginning an exercise program. If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, have your doctor evaluate your program before starting.
Most of all, if cost, pain, or time prevents you from starting your exercise program, try isometric exercises. They can help prevent and treat osteoporosis. Plus they help your natural healing.
Sources and Resources
Christiane Northrup, Women’s’ Bodies, Women’s Wisdom (New York: Bantam Books, 2010.
National Osteoporosis Foundation at http://www.nof.org.
Robert Swezey, “Spine Update: Exercise for Osteoporosis—Is Walking Enough? The Case of Site Specificity and Resistance Exercise,” Spine 21, no. 23 (1996): 2809-2813.