If you're like me, strong bones are something I take for granted.

So bone health protection isn't necessarily top-of-mind in terms of health goals.

Osteoporosis is a global (and growing) health epidemic, particularly as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

So, what can you do to safeguard yourself against future fractures?

A new study shows that just 12 minutes a day of gentle yoga may help protect and build bone as you age.

Osteoporosis: A real and widespread risk
More than 200 million people worldwide suffer from osteoporosis.

Falls and fractures caused by weak bones can be crippling ... and, in older people, can lead to a devastating downward health spiral.

Nearly one in three (30%) postmenopausal American women have the disease, and more 40% of those women will suffer a related fracture.

Despite its potentially dire consequences, osteoporosis doesn't get the attention devoted to breast cancer and heart disease.

What is osteoporosis?
Your bones are actually living tissue in a state of constant change.

You reach peak bone mass in your 20s, then gradually lose density as you age.

Over time, some bone cells begin to dissolve the matrix of your bones, while other bone cells continue to develop new bone tissue.

When osteoporosis develops, bone breakdown and loss begins to outpace growth of new bone tissue.

As a result, bones become porous, brittle and more prone to fractures.

Move to build stronger bones
The good news is that osteoporosis can be prevented with thoughtful lifestyle and dietary choices.

And some changes can even reverse the development of osteoporosis.

Surprisingly, the most recent research suggests that calcium supplements don't do much to prevent osteoporosis, and instead can lead to kidney stones.

Vitamin D appears to be more effective: see Women's Bone-Health Study Yields Fractured Results, Vitamin D, Not Calcium, Key to Bone Health, and other articles in the Omega-3s & Bone Health and General Bone Health sections of our news archive.

A significant body of research shows that physical activity may be the best way to boost bone health while reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

In particular, weight-bearing and strength-building exercises encourage the body to build more bone tissue, leading to greater density and lower risk of osteoporosis.

The most effective weight-bearing exercises for bone density are high-impact workouts, including:
  • Dance
  • Hiking
  • Tennis
  • Jogging
  • Aerobics
  • Jumping rope
  • Stair climbing
However, high-impact workouts aren't appealing or possible for some older adults.

For them, low-impact, weight-bearing exercises like these will boost bone health more safely and comfortably:
  • Walking
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Stair-step machines
  • Elliptical training
12 minutes of yoga for stronger bones
A simpler, quicker and gentler option for many older adults may be yoga.

A fascinating new study suggests that, over time, just 12 minutes of yoga per day can net positive results.

The participants in the 10-year study practiced yoga every day (or every other day) using a short video with 12 basic yoga poses (Yi-Hsueh Lu et al. 2015).

The majority were women, with an average age of 68 when they started the study, and more than eight inn 10 of the female volunteers had either osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia.

Participants were asked to complete a daily 12-minute yoga practice, focused on 12 well-known and simple yoga poses, with each pose being held for just 30 seconds.

These poses, which were presented in a DVD for at-home practice, were (in their English names): tree, triangle, warrior II, side-angle, twisted triangle, locust, bridge, supine hand-to-foot I, supine hand-to-foot II, straight-legged twist, bent-knee twist and corpse pose.

Before the volunteers began practicing yoga, the researchers collected bone density and blood chemistry measurements and conducted X-rays of participants' spines and hips.

Ten years after the start of the study, these same measurements were taken ... and showed real gains among the 227 participants who were mostly or fully compliant with the assigned yoga routine.

The volunteers who stuck most closely to their assigned yoga practice enjoyed higher bone density in the spine and femur.

And the study produced other good news: 
  • Before beginning the yoga regimen, study participants had already suffered over 100 fractures.
  • After 10 years of yoga, none of the over 700 total participants reported any kind of injury or fracture.
As the research team wrote, "By improving posture, balance, range of motion, strength, and coordination, decreasing anxiety and improving gait, yoga opposes falls in ways no medicine can provide.”

In contrast, a recent study of people practicing ashtanga yoga – an particularly strenuous, semi-aerobic type – did not gain much bone mass after 8 months (Kim S  et al,. 2015).

This suggests that yoga is a long-term aid to bone health ... not a short-term quick fix.

Some caution is in order
As with any kind of exercise, it's wise to seek expert guidance before you start a yoga routine.

That's especially true if you are over 50 or have osteopenia or osteoporosis, and are not used to bending and twisting your spine and neck.

A study in people with osteoporosis or osteopenia found that certain yoga poses – so-called "spinal flexion" poses – sometimes caused compression fractures or pain in their necks or spines (Sinaki M 2013).

(Click here to see some examples of spinal flexion poses.)

That said, a recent review of the medical literature showed that, as the authors wrote, "a combination of mild spinal flexion and extension may prove beneficial [in people with osteoporosis]." (Smith EN et al. 2013)

However, as they said, "Yoga therapists are cautioned to not apply a one-size-fits-all approach when working with this population."

In other words, it really looks like daily yoga bends – when practiced under expert guidance – can be very good for our bones!

  • Fishman LM. Yoga for Osteoporosis: A Pilot Study. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation Vol. 25, No. 3, pp. 244–250.
  • Kim S, Bemben MG, Knehans AW, Bemben DA. Effects of an 8-Month Ashtanga-Based Yoga Intervention on Bone Metabolism in Middle-Aged Premenopausal Women: A Randomized Controlled Study. J Sports Sci Med. 2015 Nov 24;14(4):756-68. eCollection 2015 Dec.
  • Phoosuwan M, Kritpet T, Yuktanandana P. The effects of weight bearing yoga training on the bone resorption markers of the postmenopausal women. J Med Assoc Thai. 2009 Sep;92 Suppl5:S102-8.
  • Sinaki M. Yoga spinal flexion positions and vertebral compression fracture in osteopenia or osteoporosis of spine: case series. Pain Pract. 2013 Jan;13(1):68-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1533-2500.2012.00545.x. Epub 2012 Mar 26.
  • Smith EN, Boser A. Yoga, vertebral fractures, and osteoporosis: research and recommendations. Int J Yoga Therap. 2013;23(1):17-23.
  • Tüzün S, Aktas I, Akarirmak U, Sipahi S, Tüzün F Yoga might be an alternative training for the quality of life and balance in postmenopausal osteoporosis. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2010 Mar;46(1):69-72.
  • Yi-Hsueh Lu, PhD; Bernard Rosner, PhD; Gregory Chang, MD, PhD; Loren M. Fishman, MD, B Phil (oxon.). Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilition Oct. 2105.