Monday, 16 April 2012


Low impact Tai Chi can help with osteoporosis


ne of the wonderful aspects of the martial arts is that you can always find a martial art that fits your health.

If you’re interested in an aerobic type of training, there are many martial arts from Jiu Jitsu to Kickboxing that can fit your need; if, on the other hand, your body requires a low impact form of exercise that’s easy on muscles and joints, perhaps Tai Chi or I Chuan might be a better fit.

People who suffer from osteoporosis might find Tai Chi especially beneficial.  The following is some information I’ve used regarding osteoporosis -

What is bone?

Like skin, bone is living tissue.  Your skeletal structure supports your entire body and protects your vital organs.  Again like skin, old bone that wears away is constantly replaced.  This is called remodeling.  Cells called osteoclasts eat old bone tissue, dissolving the minerals, resulting in small cavities on the surface of the bone.  Cells called osteoblasts fill these cavities with new bone until the surface looks like new. And so on and so on unless... the bone replacing activity of osteoblasts begins to slow down with aging and worn out bone isn’t replaced fast enough.

PeakBone Mass

Bones stop growing in density at around the age of 20 for men and 16 to 18 for women.  At around the age of 30-35, bone mass starts to decrease by about .5 to 1% per year.  In women, this rate may rise after menopause to 2% to 5% per year. Our best chances of building peak bone mass is in childhood.  However, we can help prevent osteoporosis through healthy nutrition and proper exercise.

Definition of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis means porous bones.  Bones become so porous and brittle that they’re fracture prone. 40% of women may develop fractures due to osteoporosis; in men the figure is about 13%.

Risk Factors

The following factors can contribute to the risk of osteoporosis -

1.  A family history of the disease

2.  Gender - women are more susceptible. But watch out guys - bone mass problems of all kinds can affect aging men.

3.  Age - the older the more risk.

4.  Small, thin, tall or lean build.

5.  Early menopause; estrogen deficiency; abnormal absence or suppression of menstruation.

6.  Calcium and Vitamin D intake and absorption deficiency.

7.  Lack of proper exercise or immobilization for periods of time.

8.  Smoking, excessive alcohol and/or caffeine.

Proper Exercise

There are four types of exercise suggested that can help prevent or slow down osteoporosis. 

Weight Bearing Exercise -  working bones and muscles against gravity.  The higher the impact the more the activity strengthens the bones.  The pull of muscle on bone stimulates bone building. 
One problem however - people with osteoporosis can’t do high impact activity because of fracture risks.  In this case, low impact exercises like Tai Chi are recommended.  Some examples of other weight bearing exercises - walking, stair climbing, dancing and running.

Resistance Training - free weights, weight-training machines, exercise bands or water resistance exercises all strengthen bones.  Intensity - not the number of repetitions - is the key here. 1 to 3 sets with 8 to 10 reps each are recommended.

Balance and Co-ordination Exercises - especially in older people are recommended to prevent falls.

Posture Improving Exercises - what you don’t want is more strain on the bones (especially on the spine) through poor posture.  Back extensions, prone abdominal lifts, chin tuck, shoulder exercises, core strengthening and erector spinae exercises help maintain body posture.  

Tai Chi? - if you are considering Tai Chi, here’s a brief note about its background.  Tai Chi is a series of postures linked together by slow, flowing movements.  It comes from China and has enjoyed popularity in North America because of its therapeutic benefits, particularly for helping with arthritis, high blood pressure, stress, etc. There are many “styles” of Tai Chi.  The most traditional are Yang, Chen, Sun and Wu.  What to look for in a real Tai Chi style? - a supple waist and spine; a slow, unhurried pace; the back is straight and aligned and not leaning forward; a relaxed body.  Tai Chi is adjustable to your needs and restrictions. For example, if you have knee problems, you can practise Tai Chi without bending your knees down too far. Tai Chi can even be done in a wheel chair.

Look for future posts on topics like these, especially arthritis!

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