What is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia is generally the term used when your bones are weaker than normal. Remember your mom telling you to drink your milk for strong bones? Well, how strong your bones are in youth will have an effect on the onset of weaker bones as you age. Osteopenia typically starts to develop with age, and the onset occurs after 50. Bones aren’t so weak that they will break very easily, they are just weaker than normal.
About half of Americans over the age of 50 have osteopenia, but it isn’t inevitable for every aging person. Keeping up that daily dose of calcium, exercising for bone strength, and occasional medication may help keeping your bones strong and staving off osteopenia.
Osteopenia vs Osteoporosis
The differences between osteopenia and osteoporosis are the level of bone density described by each disease. Osteoporosis means less bone density than osteopenia, which means someone who has osteoporosis will suffer from broken bones much easier than someone with osteopenia. A doctor can perform bone mineral density tests to scientifically show which of these diseases you have, which is done with an X-ray of different parts of the body. Osteopenia and osteoporosis are related though, as osteopenia can be considered the midway point between healthy bones and osteoporosis.
There aren’t symptoms to osteopenia most of the time, since simply having weaker bones doesn’t cause pain. That’s why it’s important to have yearly check ups with your doctor so they can monitor your health for risks of osteopenia. Risk factors increase with age, and having a small frame increases that risk as well. Poor diet also contributes to higher risks, and certain types of medications such as prednisone or phenytoin.
Causes of Osteopenia
There are lifestyle causes of osteopenia like a lack of essential vitamins like calcium or vitamin D, not enough exercise, or smoking or drinking too much. Medical conditions can also trigger osteopenia such as eating disorders that starve the body of nutrients, untreated celiac disease, an overactive thyroid, and chemotherapy.
Family history of osteopenia is also another indicator that you’re more likely to develop it, and since on average women have lower bone mass than men and also live longer they have a higher risk for developing osteopenia.
Treatment for Osteopenia
Preventing and treating osteopenia starts at an early age. Though some people have lower bone density due to genetic factors, anyone can benefit from performing the proper exercise and diet during developmental years. Even after your developmental years getting enough daily calcium and performing weight lifting still helps maintain bone strength. This is the primary treatment for osteopenia that will help prevent it from progressing further into osteoporosis.
Emphasis on being physically active is a large part of bone health, and if you’ve been treated with osteopenia your doctor can follow how your bone density is changing after a work out regiment is undertaken. Bone density tests should be repeated in two years or less after the first one to see the progress and monitor whether intervention is necessary as a follow up.
Before you start an osteopenia workout routine you should check with your doctor or physical therapist first. They will be able to guide you as far as what’s safe for your level of osteopenia and general health. Exercise plans will have to be adjusted based on the risk of a fracture, overall strength and range of motion, as well as how much physical activity you’ve engaged in previously. Obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease will also have an impact on what kind of exercises are recommended. There are specialist physical therapists who can design a unique exercise plan for any health-related issues.
If you have weaker bones you should avoid the highest impact weight bearing exercises, and start with low impact exercises such as elliptical training machines, stair machines and walking. Work your way up to 30 minutes of weight bearing exercises a day for most of the week. Muscle strengthening exercises are also good like push ups, elastic bands, free weights and weight machines, which should be done 2 to 3 times per week.