A couple weeks ago, I attended a very interesting seminar on “Bone Marrow Adiposity: An Age-Associated Phenotype; What's between bone and fat? New insights into age-related osteoporosis” by Dr. Clifford Rosen, MD. Dr. Rosen is the Director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Research at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough. His talk was fairly technical and had to do with the regulation of fat in bone and how it increases slowly with age, as well as being affected by other environmental and genetic factors. His data showed that as fat accumulates in bone with age, it appeared to be related to a decrease in bone density, and therefore could be a driver of osteoporosis in both men and woman. He also stated that the clinical manifestation of osteoporosis is bone breakage, and therefore as your bone density decreases, it is the fall and inevitable bone fracture that typically turns people into patients. Avoiding a fall in the first place is possibly the best and for some the only way to avoid the adverse effects of this age-related decline in bone density.
After his seminar, I had a chance to talk with him after his research and asked him whether yoga might help by decreasing the risk of falling. He immediately said yes, and added that the yoga and tai chi were the two things that he knew that had been shown to have the greatest benefits in reducing this falling and bone fractures (see, for example, the Mayo Clinic web site's Exercising with osteoporosis: Stay active the safe way by choosing the right form of exercise and the New York Times article Ancient Moves for Orthopedic Problems). He implied that this was primarily through an increase in balance as opposed to strength. Indeed, while there is plenty of evidence that strength training is important, an increase in balance and flexibility can make all the difference between a stumble or misstep and a full-fledged fall.
And for those of us who already do yoga, this is yet another compelling argument that working on balance is critical as we age. So if you haven't done so already, check out Shari's post last week about how to create a yoga practice to improve your balance (see Planning a Practice for Improving Balance).