When I was diagnosed with Osteoporosis aged 21, most of the information available targeted the elderly population (and still does), and the consequences of what it could have on my body (and my life overall) felt too far in the future to even contemplate.
Osteoporosis is a progressive skeletal disease which leads to a reduced bone mass and reduction in bone strength. Bones are increasingly fragile, and susceptible to fracture and in the long term sufferers can experience spinal deformity, pain and disability. About 3/4 of women who meet the criteria for Anorexia Nervosa show some evidence of bone mineral deficiency.
In 2016, I broke my pelvis in two places after falling on carpet. It was the first time I felt the impact of brittle bone disease, and the life changing consequences of living alongside it.
I spent 3 months in a wheelchair, and the months after re-learning how to walk.
Since re-engaging safely in exercise (and completing my Level 3 PT qualification), I’m passionate about incorporating resistance and weight bearing exercises into my classes (and my own workouts), to support and improve bone health.
So, what do I consider?
- Strengthening exercises (using resistance, body weight, the pull of gravity, weights, and/or exercise bands) can support and strengthen bones. The muscle pulls on the tendons that attach the muscle to the bone, and the bone responds to this pull by becoming stronger.
- Weight bearing exercises work directly on the bones in the legs, hips, lower spine and wrists to stimulate bone production. This can include free weights, resistance bands and weight machines, however activities like walking and pilates are also incredibly beneficial.
- Flexibility exercises help maintain joint and muscle flexibility and promote good posture, helping reduce the risk of vertebral fractures and Kyphosis (increased spinal curve).
- Stability and balance exercises can reduce the risk of falling and potential resultant fracture in those with poor balance and stability.
- Avoid jumping and running and focus on more controlled movements (especially if your bones are already weak).
- Avoid exercises which encourage you to twist, as this may cause compression fractures.
Is exercising (with an Osteoporosis diagnosis) for everyone?
Although regular exercise is understood to be beneficial in maintaining and improve bone density, this is ONLY relevant for those within a healthy weight range. Weight restoration is your FIRST and most IMPORTANT priority, and it may be much further down the line that you consider reintegrating exercise.
A Generic Google Search after my Osteoporosis diagnosis told me I needed to exercise, yet it failed to consider the fact I was in the grips of my Eating Disorder (including a compulsive exercise problem) and the LAST thing I needed to be doing was exercise.
Only when someone is weight restored is it safe for them to engage in exercise to support bone health. Doing otherwise can be harmful, and place your bones (and your body) at further risk.
Currently, there are no approved treatments (including the use of hormones) to help with the bone loss associated with Anorexia Nervosa.
I live with this disease every single day. I’m scared for what it means for my future, and I’m passionate about doing what I can to support others experiencing the same.
**Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any advice, insight or signposting requests in regards to experiencing Osteoporosis (or Osteopenia) as a result of an Eating Disorder.**