Our resident medical expert Dr Juliet McGrattan explains how to manage running with osteoporosis
It’s widely known that running is good for bone health. But what if you have thin or fragile bones? Around 3 million people in the UK have osteoporosis, a condition where bone density and strength are reduced and the risk of breaking a bone is high. Will running be detrimental or harmful if you have osteoporosis?
Running makes bones strong and reduces bone thinning during ageing. We hit our maximum bone mass around age 30. After that, we lose a little more bone than we make each year. Around the menopause, bone loss speeds up for a few years and then slows down again. We all need to take action to preserve our bone strength.
Bones get stronger when they’re stressed. Every time your foot hits the ground it sends a jolt through your leg bones. Repeating this over and over again, as you do when you run, spurs your bone forming cells into action.
Many women don’t know they have osteoporosis and only get a diagnosis once they’ve broken a bone. Speak to your practice nurse or doctor if you’re concerned about your bone health, for example if:
- you’ve fractured a bone after a minor injury.
- you had your menopause before age 45 and haven’t used HRT.
- you are significantly underweight.
- you are or have been a heavy smoker or drinker.
- you haven’t had a period for a year and aren’t menopausal.
- you have other bone conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Want more health tips? Here are our top health benefits of running.
For the majority of women, running is still possible with osteoporosis but it is a very individual thing. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your own situation including the severity of your osteoporosis and the bones affected. For example, if you have significant thinning of the bones in your spine then the high impact jolting that running causes may not be advised. Your personal balance of risk and benefit needs to be assessed by an expert.
Exercise is vital for treating and managing osteoporosis and you should generally do more of it once you’ve been diagnosed but you may need to adapt what you do. The Royal Osteoporosis Society has a lot of information about exercising with osteoporosis, including videos, fact sheets and a telephone helpline.
If you’ve been given the go-ahead to run, there are lots of things you can do to make it as safe as possible for yourself. These include:
- increasing your training gradually so bones can adapt.
- taking plenty of rest days to allow bone healing and strengthening.
- doing regular muscle strengthening work to support but also strengthen bones.
- working on balance and co-ordination to reduce the risk of falls.
- taking care on new, tricky routes or running in the dark.
- eating a diet packed with fresh fruit, vegetables and calcium-rich foods to provide the building blocks for bone formation.
- taking a daily vitamin D supplement.
- not smoking and reducing your alcohol intake to within the recommended 14 units per week.