In celebration of World Menopause Day on 18th October, yoga teacher Gabriella Espinosa shines a light on the importance of bone health and how a regular yoga practice can help strengthen our bones from perimenopause, menopause and beyond.
The ground of your being
There are 206 bones in the human body forming a living, breathing, evolving and vibrant matrix of tissue. Your bones are the ground of your being, a repository for nutrients and minerals, a fountain of red and white blood cells flowing through your body and a springboard for movement and energy. As women transition into menopause, it is important to focus on our bone health.
Osteopenia is when your bones become thinner and less dense than normal and can begin to happen from your 30s without any major symptoms. Osteoporosis is more severe bone loss leading to an increased risk of breaks, fractures and loss of spinal flexion. Both can be measured through a Bone Mineral Density Scan or a Dexa Scan.
Several factors play a role in developing osteopenia and in osteoporosis. These include genetics, the decrease in oestrogen as women enter perimenopause in their 40s and beyond to menopause and postmenopause, cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy, eating disorders, drinking, smoking and an overactive thyroid. Common nutrient deficiencies in vitamin D and calcium also play a significant role.
The key pillars of bone health
The key pillars of sustaining bone strength include stimulating bone through weight bearing movement and exercise, muscular engagement of the arms, legs, abdomen and glutes which allow you to apply stimulating pressure to bone, and balance which helps build agility and equilibrium.
A seminal two-year pilot study of yoga and osteoporosis found that participants who did 10 specified yoga postures per day for about 10 minutes per day experienced improvements in bone density (Fishman, 2009). A 2010 review found yoga is as effective or better than other forms of exercise at improving muscle strength and flexibility (Ross, 2010).
Yoga has the added benefit of reducing cortisol levels, lowering stress which can be a factor in decreasing bone density by inhibiting osteoblasts – our bone building cells.
Optimising bone health
You can protect your bones by taking the following preventative measures:
- Make sure you are getting enough calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and phosporous. Calcium rich foods include milk, yogurt, cheese; and non- dairy sources include almonds, sesame seeds/tahini, tinned salmon or sardines with small bones, spinach, pak choi, kale, broccoli, tofu.
- Protein intake is key to increase bone mineral mass and you should aim for a palm size portion with every meal and snack – think lean meats, nuts and nut butters, hempseeds, beans, lentils, peas, quinoa, teff and spelt.
- Weight bearing exercise and active stretching including yoga! When you are bearing weight through feet and hands or actively stretching muscle you are activating osteoblasts – the cells that strengthen and form bone. An added benefit is the activation of immunity protecting cells located in bone marrow.Bone forming proteins synthesise after 10 seconds of stimulating pressure on the bone, so you want to aim to hold poses for at least this long and gradually extend the hold of your poses to 20-30 seconds.
These preventative measures focused on our bone health can lead to more steadiness and ease, a concept at the heart of the yogic philosophical notion of Sthira/Sukha, from perimenopause, menopause and beyond.
Gabriella Espinosa is founder of Women’s Body Wisdom. You can follow her work on Instagram @gabriellaespinosa. Photo credit: @yogaandphoto