The Skinny on Osteoporosis

The skinny celebrity lifestyle can leave you with brittle bones.

By , Columnist
lLet's start off with a question:

What do Sally Field, Joan Rivers, Gwyneth Paltrow, Meredith Viera, and Ursula Andress have in common?

Yes, they are all famous female celebrities who are well known for their looks as much as their work, but that is not what I am looking for. Sadly, the answer is that they all have osteoporosis.


Basically, osteoporosis means porous bones. In Greek it translates as "passages through bones." The human skeleton reaches its maximum bone mass (amount of bone tissue) and density (how tightly it is packed) around ages 20-30, after which bone removal begins to occur faster than bone production.

Primary osteoporosis is caused by either a natural estrogen deficiency or age. Secondary osteoporosis, which what I am most concerned with, is caused by certain medical conditions such as cancer, early removal of ovaries, reduced testosterone levels in men, spinal cord injury, blood and bone marrow disorders, sex hormone deficiencies, overactive thyroid or parathyroid, overactive adrenal glands, lack of vitamin D and anorexia nervosa or exercise-induced amenorrhea (lack of a menstrual cycle). Several of the secondary factors are controllable.

With the focus on weight loss and being skinny in our society, young women are at greater risk of not strengthening their bones early on in life, and they will pay the consequences for that later. It is crucial that young women eat enough food and exercise enough to stay strong without going overboard in either direction. Our bones hold 99 percent of our body's total calcium. If we do not ingest enough calcium to assist the bone remodeling process, and support the calcium absorption through proper nutrition and activity, our body takes it out of the bones themselves.

In addition to nutrition and medication, moderate weight bearing exercise is the best thing. Wolff's law states that bone becomes stronger in response to increased stress i.e., exercise. Weight bearing activities such as walking and dancing are done upright and require our bones to fully resist the forces of gravity.

It is important to exercise and move correctly in order to maintain posture and bone density. Here are some easy to follow guidelines for readers with low bone density:

  1. DO weight bearing exercise on your feet every day. Weight bearing in our case means standing on your feet! Walking, jogging, standing Pilates, weight training, cardiovascular exercise.
  2. DO work on your balance in standing as often as possible. The less you fall the less your risk of wrist or hip fracture. Standing yoga poses and standing Pilates can be very helpful here. Even just practicing standing on one leg is good.
  3. DO resistance, cardiovascular, and flexibility training within safe guidelines.
  4. DO focus on spine and torso extension. As our bodies give in to gravity we begin to round forward. It is crucial that we work constantly to stay upright with a gentle squeeze of the shoulder blades and a lovely lift of the breastbone.
  5. DO be careful sneezing and coughing. Many spinal compression fractures happen during forceful coughing and sneezing. Try to stand or sit with your back against something for support.
  6. DO NOT flex your spine forward. Don't bend over to tie your shoes or pick something up off the floor. Don't round forward while getting in and out of bed. Do not do sit ups or crunches, plows or shoulder stands. And never roll around on your spine! The microfractures occur in the front of the spine and are irreversible. Do you want to look like a round ball all the time for the rest of your life? I know I don't!
  7. DO NOT roll around on your spine. I know, I'm saying it again, but this is so important! And I am scared to tell you how many clients with osteoporosis I have seen who have been given extreme flexion exercises by certified Pilates teachers in studios.
  8. DO NOT forcefully twist your spine. Be nice to your spine. Forceful torsion will hurt.
  9. DO NOT do sit ups or crunches! Remember the flexion discussion above? A good Pilates teacher or Fitness trainer can show you many abdominal strengthening alternatives.
  10. DO NOT take your leg far out to the side of your body (abduction). This is where many a hip fracture has occurred.
Now, is there a chance that you could do all of the movements I say are bad for osteoporosis and be fine? Sure. But why take the chance? Gwyneth Paltrow discovered she had low bone density after a severe leg fracture that required several surgeries to heal correctly. The death rate after a hip fracture is 20 percent for women and 30 percent for men. Plus, spinal fractures can cause the "dowager's hump" which is uncomfortable, unattractive, and unhealthy.

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NYC resident Lynda Lippin is a world-renowned Pilates, Fitness, and Reiki instructor with nearly 25 years of experience. She is also an accomplished writer and a former Philosophy professor. In her Featured Column, Lynda will lead you on a path towards Fitness Sanity. Got Questions? Want Lynda to checkā€¦

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