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Yoga and Osteoporosis

All vigorous exercise can be of benefit to the heart and lungs but yoga is also a valuable way to strengthen bones and to prevent osteoporosis. Osteoporotic bones are brittle and fragile and can be fractured in even minor falls. All elderly people should be mindful of this and take all necessary precautions. Hospital admissions for fractures in the elderly come largely from falls from ladders or stairs, especially from descending stairs. Always holding a handrail would prevent a great many of these accidents.

Bone is a living tissue. It is constantly in the process of ridding itself of cells that are old and inefficient and replacing them with new cells. This activity is carried out by specialised cells called osteoclasts that remove the old cells and osteoblasts that create new ones.

Bone strength is dependent on the density of the bone tissue. Our bones are at their strongest in the first 30 years of life. After that there is a gradual reduction in calcium and a consequent reduction in bone density, accentuated in women at the time of menopause and in men a little later.

Osteoblasts can only create healthy new bone cells if there is an available supply of calcium and this means elderly people should choose a calcium-rich diet. Vitamin D is also a necessity because it helps the body to extract the calcium from the diet. Vitamin D is manufactured in the body by the effect of sunlight on the skin and it has been estimated that an elderly person would need to expose the skin of the hands, arms and face for 5 to 10 minutes daily, 4 to 6 times a week, to ensure an adequate production of the vitamin.

Sometimes it is necessary to take tablets of calcium and Vitamin D to make up for any deficiency. But no amount of such dietary supplements can be of any help if the osteoclasts are busy removing old bone cells but there are too few osteoblasts to convert calcium into new ones.

The only way to stimulate an increased production of osteoblasts is by exerting a stress to the surface of a bone. And because elderly people tend to lead rather sedentary lives their bones are not subjected to those necessary stresses. When a ligament stretches, or a muscle contracts, it applies a stress to the area of bone to which it is attached. This mechanical stress stimulates the production of osteoblasts at the stress site.

Walking briskly, jogging, running, lifting weights, tennis or golf are all valuable ways to help prevent osteoporosis but yoga is probably the best way of all. In a well planned yoga routine every muscle and every ligament is stretched and challenged to its maximum capacity, resulting in stress being placed on almost every bony surface. Very few bones of the entire skeleton would be exempt from its beneficial effect.

 

Dietary Sources of Calcium

It can be seen from the chart below that there is not an abundance of calcium in the average diet. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are the richest source. International authorities recommend a daily intake of 1000 mg of calcium daily for all adults, increasing to 1300 mg for women over 50 and men over 70.

Food Std serving size Calcium (mg)
Rump Steak (lean) 100g 5
Apples 1 medium 156g 7
Lamb Chop (lean) 100g 8
Bread - mixed grain 30g (slice) 15
Bread - wholemeal 30g (slice) 16
Chicken - roasted no skin 100g 16
Broccoli 60g 18
Strawberries 1 cup (145g) 19
Eggs - boiled 1 large (48g) 21
Baked Beans 100g 34
Oranges 1 medium (122g) 34
Apricots - dried 50g 35
Spinach 100g 50
Tahini 20g (1 tbsp) 65
Soy beans (boiled) 100g 76
Custard 100g 100
Almonds 50g 110
Ice Cream 100g 133
Salmon - tinned, red 100g 220
Sardines - canned 100g 380
Cheese - mild 40g (piece) 300
Cheddar (reduced fat) 40g (2 slices) 323
Cheddar Cheese 40g (2 slices) 327
Yogurt - Low fat 200g (std tub) 316
Yogurt - Plain 200g (std tub) 390
Milk - Regular 250ml (std glass) 285
Milk - Reduced Fat (1%) 250ml (std glass) 352
Milk - Skim 250ml (std glass) 320
Milk - Calcium Fortified 250ml (std glass) 353


Most of the yoga books I have read have been written by yoga teachers with trim, supple and attractive young bodies who perform the most difficult asanas with the utmost ease. I hope my readers will be comforted by seeing just an ordinary 82 year old body striving to do asanas that at first had seemed impossible but which gradually, through hard work and perseverance, have become a comfortable part of my yoga regime.

 

 

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