YOGA FOR BONE HEALTH
Increasing bone density and maintaining it is a large concern for many. Could a yoga practice help? Several small research studies seem to indicate that it might.
Some people believe that bones are hard and lifeless, but they are actually living and growing tissue. The body continually absorbs old bone tissue and generates new bone to maintain its density, strength, and structural integrity. Bone density peaks in the late 20s, and it starts to weaken around 35 years of age. As a person grows older, bone begins to break down faster than it rebuilds. When the body reabsorbs more bone tissue and produces too little to replace it, osteoporosis can occur. Bone poverty, or osteopenia, is when the bone density is less than normal but it’s not yet thin enough to be categorized as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition of low density that causes bones to become thin and porous. It decreases bone strength and leads to an increased risk of breaking a bone. The most common sites of these fractures occur in the spine, hip, shoulder, and wrist. Osteoporosis is sometimes referred to as a “silent” disease because it often goes unnoticed until a break or fracture occurs.
There are many lifestyle changes that can be made to assist in decreasing the likelihood or severity of bone density loss. One of these is the addition of weight bearing exercises. Weight bearing exercises can help to prevent osteoporosis by placing controlled stress on the bones, which encourages bone growth. Adding weights to mindful alignment based exercise is often a go-to. But what about yoga?
A study published in 2016 in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation (Lu, et. al.) looked at participants whose average age was 68. They were asked to practice a series of 12 postures at least every other day for 2 years. At the end of the study, researchers found significant differences in the bone mineral density of the spine. It had increased! This study contributes to the support of efficacy and safety for yoga as a possible treatment.
The benefits aren’t only shared by older individuals either. Bera and Rajapurkar published a study in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology where 40 boys aged 12 to 15 years old were the participants. The boys were assigned either to a yoga group who practiced yoga 3 days per week or a control group who did not participate. Researchers observed a significant decrease of fat mass and a considerable improvement of bone density in the yoga group compared with the control group.
In the Journal of Biomedical Human Kinetics, Grabara published a study indicating that in women who had been diagnosed with osteoporosis, a regular yoga practice could relieve perceived pain, improve functional fitness, and improve perceived quality of life. An assessment of the shape of the anterior-posterior spinal curvatures among people over 55 years old also showed a reduction of excessive thoracic kyphosis and lumbar lordosis (AKA better spinal alignment) as a result of a weekly 90-minute hatha yoga practice for 8 months.
There’s still a long way to go in broadly demonstrating this correlation, but these studies and others are exciting news for yogis everywhere. Perhaps we can soon add one more benefit to the ever growing list of practitioner perks. Yay!!!
So, how can you replicate some of this potential bone building action in your own routine? Try mindful, alignment based, slower paced practices. Incorporate tree, triangle, warrior II, side-angle, twisted triangle, locust, bridge, supine hand-to-foot I, supine hand-to-foot II, straight-legged twist, bent-knee twist, and corpse postures into your practice. Hold each well aligned posture for 30 seconds. Stay consistent in your practice, aiming for at least 3 days per week to gain the greatest bone building benefits.
If you have osteoporosis or low bone density, consult your physician prior to beginning any exercise or movement practice. Some types of movements like jumping, dynamic weight bearing, and even forward folds are not recommended and can cause increased levels of damage or harm. Also, let your teacher know. Some styles of yoga are better suited than others in regards to these conditions. An experienced teacher will be able to give you guidance as well as modifications for your practice.
Enjoy your healthy practice for happy bones!!!