Yoga is the ultimate form of exercise for relieving stress and improving flexibility. In fact, researchers from Boston University found that yoga may be a more effective workout for relieving stress than walking. In the study, subjects who did yoga experienced greater improvements in mood and had higher levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA that helps the body relax. Therefore, yoga is a stress reliever.
Yoga has other benefits. Research shows that Hatha yoga can modestly boost muscle endurance and strength. A study carried out by researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that participants who did 55 minutes of Hatha yoga 3 times each week for 8 weeks experienced improvements in muscle strength and endurance. They also enjoyed improved flexibility.
Yoga is a good workout for all ages and both genders. In fact, more men are taking part in yoga these days. But what if you have low bone density? Is it safe to do all yoga poses and movements?
Osteoporosis, Osteopenia, and Yoga
Osteoporosis is the pathological loss of bone mass. Bones with osteoporosis are weak, brittle, and prone toward fractures. In fact, some people with osteoporosis can develop a bone fracture from minor moves, such as bending over to pick something up or coughing. The statistics are sobering: 1 out of 3 women will develop a bone fracture because of osteoporosis in their lifetime.
Some people also have osteopenia based on bone imaging studies. This means they have a bone density below average based on age but don’t have bone loss severe enough to cause a fracture with minor trauma. Osteopenia isn’t a true disease but a marker of higher risk for osteoporosis, much like people with pre-diabetes have a greater risk of developing diabetes.
Exercise is beneficial for people with low bone density, and we all need it? How safe is yoga is you have low bone density and are there certain poses you should avoid?
Yoga Poses to Avoid
The poses you can and can’t do depends on how severe your bone loss is. If you only have mild osteopenia, you may not need to restrict your yoga poses. It’s best to get your physician’s okay before doing yoga if you have bone loss. Therefore, this information is only a general guideline.
In a small study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers looked at middle-aged and older females who had injured themselves while doing yoga. Around 25% of the participants had osteoporosis. As you might expect, some participants with osteoporosis developed injuries. The injuries they sustained included compression fractures, soft tissue injuries, rotator cuff injuries, and herniated discs. When they identified the poses they did, they identified some high-risk yoga poses. These include:
· Half Lotus
· Warrior one
· Side plank
· Downward dog
· Seated forward fold
According to the study, it’s safest to avoid poses that require extreme spinal extension or flexion. Twisting the spine can also be a risky move if you do it too quickly. If you do standing poses, use a chair or wall for extra support. You should check with your physician before doing any exercise with osteoporosis as there are varying degrees of bone loss and this can impact what exercises it’s safe for you to do. It’s also possible to modify poses to make them safer if you have low bone density. If you have significant bone loss, consider training with a physical therapist who also understands yoga. This kind of instruction will help you approach yoga in a safe and effective manner.
Benefits of Yoga for Bone Loss
If you do it safely, yoga is beneficial for bone loss and for preserving bone density. According to one small study, doing yoga consistently can modestly boost bone density in adults. For the study, 18 people with osteopenia or osteoporosis who took part in yoga for 10 minutes each day gained between 0.76 and 0.94 points on the T-scale in the hips and spine. Some participants with osteoporosis gained enough bone density to be classified as osteopenic and some with osteopenia gained enough to bone mass to have normal bone density.
Plus, the practice of yoga improves balance, and that lowers the risk of falls. One of the greatest dangers of having low bone density is the risk of falling and fracturing a hip. A broken hip is a major injury! In fact, the mortality after a hip fracture ranges from 14% to 58%. Plus, older people who fracture a hip can lose their independence. It’s a life-changing event that has a long recovery period. That’s why it’s so important to avoid an injury that can lead to a bone fracture.
Other forms of exercise can also be of benefit if you have osteoporosis. Strength training helps preserve bone mass and some studies show that certain strength-training exercises may modestly boost bone density. You can use your own bodyweight, dumbbells, barbells, or resistance bands. As with yoga, it’s best to avoid exercises that require twisting of the body or extreme flexion or extension of the spine. Also, do exercises with control and avoid jerking the weights or changing positions suddenly. As with yoga, talk to your physician about what exercise is safe for you. If you have osteoporosis, you might benefit from working with a physical therapist at first to learn how to do the exercises safely.
The Bottom Line
Yoga is healthful for your mind and body but take precautions if you have osteoporosis. Get clearance from your physician first and take these precautions to make yoga and other forms of exercise safe if you have reduced bone density.
· Berkeley Wellness. “Low Bone Density? Avoid These Yoga Poses”
· The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Volume 16. Number 11. 2010; pages 1145-1152.
· Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Volume 94, Issue 3, March 2019, Pages 424-431.
· Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation: July-September 2009 – Volume 25 – Issue 3 – p 244–250
· doi: 10.1097/TGR.0b013e3181b02dd6.
· Harvard Health Publishing. “Yoga: Another way to prevent osteoporosis?”
· Geriatr Orthop Surg Rehabil. 2010 Sep; 1(1): 6–14. doi: 10.1177/2151458510378105.