Boning up on better health

Gentle aquafit programs at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre are among the best ways to keep your bones healthy and strong as you age.  - Andrew Leong/file
Gentle aquafit programs at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre are among the best ways to keep your bones healthy and strong as you age.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

They call it the silent thief.

Osteoporosis is a loss of bone mass that happens over time. It can go undetected until a bone fracture occurs due to the fragility of the bones. Post-menopausal women are most prone to the condition, though men can suffer from it as well.

Exercise, especially weight-bearing activities, is one of the treatments that can help to strengthen the muscles around the bones, which reduces the risk of a fall and bone fractures.

Wendy Thomas is a fitness instructor who has worked for many years with seniors. She said she can often tell who suffers from osteoporosis by their stance, even if they don’t know it themselves.

“It creeps up. They’ve lost height. They are hunched over. They are complaining of back pain but they say they don’t have osteoporosis.”

The characteristic hunch called kyphosis, or dowager’s hump, is caused by fractures in the vertebrae. Thomas encourages people in this situation to speak with their doctor and have a DEXA bone density scan to reveal their condition.

“If they’ve lost height or had a fragility fracture — falling from standing height — in their spine, wrist or hip, they need to talk to their doctor about it.”

Thomas said people who are diagnosed with osteoporosis can panic, thinking their activities will be limited for life. She said that isn’t the case.

“It’s the contrary. Keep active, keep moving and don’t sit back and do nothing. Do resistance training and make those muscles stronger to support the bones.”

Water- and land-based programs focused on keeping the spine straight while strengthening the muscles around the joints help mitigate the risks of injury due to the condition.

Stasha Perchaluk of Your Health Connection is a fitness instructor who leads classes on land and in the water at the Oceanfront Suites at Cowichan Bay. Perchaluk said it comes down to the individual to decide which type of class to take.

“Some folks are comfortable in the water and some prefer having land classes. As long as it’s something they are going to continue with to maintain their quality of life. If it’s not something you enjoy, you’re not going to do it and maintain that consistency.”

Perchaluk said small groups work best for most people.

"Smaller groups seem to be beneficial. I think it's important to have that social connection to it. Someone you can talk with that is going through it."

Thomas is the past Vancouver Island Regional Coordinator for OsteoFit, a fitness program that incorporates exercise, education and visualization.

"OsteoFit is a program developed by BC Women and Children's Hospital twenty years ago. It has just sort of grown through the province. Certified fitness instructors take the course to get to the OsteoFit specialty."

Thomas said fitness groups, like OsteoFit, that meet regularly offer attendees an opportunity to talk to others.

"It's almost a support group in itself. They come and talk to each other. They support each other, exchange recipes, medication."

OsteoFit and other joint wellness classes are offered at Kerry Park Recreation Centre in Mill Bay/Shawnigan Lake, the Cowichan Aquatic Centre in Duncan, and Oceanfront Suites in Cowichan Bay.

For more information

The B.C. government has created a free fitness DVD called Move For Life that demonstrates gentle exercises done sitting or standing that are helpful to those with osteoporosis.

"It's an incredible resource. It is really well done," Carol Hunt of the Cowichan Seniors Community Foundation said.

Call 1-877-725-1149 to order the DVD.

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