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Exercises such as resistance exercise can help increase strength and promote healthy bone growth. Picture Shutterstock

Charles Sturt University experts recommend Australian seniors begin to look more closely at exercise and their health, focusing on their bone density and strength.

Osteoporosis, a disorder of the skeleton that results in less dense and frail bones, now affects 1.2 million people in Australia and is more common in people over the age of 50.

Approximately 75 per cent of osteoporosis occurs in people 65 and over, and women represent three in four cases.

Osteoporosis results in an increased risk of bone fractures following a minor bump, trip or fall, and while any bone in the body can be affected, the most common ones are the hip, wrist, and spine. Any fracture, especially with seniors, can lead to chronic pain, disability, loss of independence, or even death.

Accredited exercise physiologist and scholarly teaching fellow in clinical exercise physiology at CSU’s School of Allied Health, Exercise and Sports Sciences, Karina Liles, said exercise was extremely important for seniors.

“The benefits of exercise for chronic health conditions can never be overstated, especially for those with osteoporosis,” she said. “As a ‘silent disease’, quite often the first and only symptoms are fractures, so by exercising, we are trying to prevent further issues.”

Since bones go through remodelling and continue to change throughout your life, Karina said doing different exercises can promote healthy bone growth.

“A combination of resistance and weight-bearing training can really stimulate healthy bone cells,” she said. “You should start with small resistance training, gradually building it up and then move onto weight bearing and impact style exercises.”

Karina said balance exercises are also essential for seniors and people with osteoporosis. “By doing balance exercises, people can improve their balance, which is then going to reduce their risk of trips, falls, and bumps, which in turn reduces the associated risk of fractures.”

Types of different exercises can include:

Weight-bearing impact exercise: Exercise and loading should be vertical and multidirectional, such as jumping, hopping, skipping, step-ups, and bounding.

Resistance exercise: Usually completed with weights, you should target large muscle groups, including weighted lunges, squats, deadlifts, push-ups, calf raises, or variations.

Balance exercise: Suitable balance exercises will vary for each individual, and examples include tandem balance, single-leg balance, heel-toe walking, and balancing on uneven surfaces or foam mats.

Karina said it was also important to maintain a healthy diet in conjunction with exercise. “You generally want a nutritional and well-balanced diet,” she said. “Bones respond well to food rich in calcium and Vitamin D such as dairy products, green leafy vegetables, and nuts and seeds.”

Work your way up to better health

While exercising is important for seniors and those with health problems, getting started is often the hardest step.

Accredited exercise physiologist (AEP) and scholarly teaching fellow in clinical exercise physiology at CSU’s School of Allied Health, Exercise and Sports Sciences, Karina Liles, said that people should get into a routine, start small and gradually work their way up.

“People can start with resistance training as it is really beneficial, then progress gradually to other exercises such as weight-bearing training,” she said.

“Some exercises can seem intimidating, but if you visit an AEP, they can help you tailor an exercise plan that is safe and suits your health and fitness levels.”

Karina said it was also important to take into account your fitness goals; however, promoting healthy bone growth should be one of those goals.

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