Stress and bones... the good and the bad

osteoporosis Jan 22, 2020

Stress is the body’s way of responding to demand on pressures.

It’s a normal part of life and is a healthy reaction that helps us cope with life’s challenges. However, too much stress, or prolonged stress can affect our physical and mental health.

Cortisol is a hormone, which is mainly released at times of stress and has many important functions in your body such as increasing glucose metabolism, controlling blood pressure and inflammation. Cortisol is also required for the fight or flight response which is a healthy, natural response to perceived threats. However, as I mentioned above, health problems can arise if you are producing too much or too little cortisol.

A prolonged period of increased cortisol can lead to the body inhibiting osteoblasts - a type of bone cell that connect together to help build bone. This can lead to the body ending up with more broken down tissue than deposited tissue, causing low bone density and eventually osteoporosis.

So if you weren’t stressed before. You might be now.... But don’t worry! There’s good news in this blog post. Promise.

The best thing you can do to manage cortisol levels is managing stress. Identifying the cause of stress can help - it may not fix the issue but can lead to developing ways to manage the stress. Here are some quick examples that you can use to help manage stress.

  1. Engaging in relaxing activities and controlled breathing

    ● Controlled breathing has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system. When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response to help calm the body.
    ● Breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, PTSD and depression.

  2. Exercise

    ● We always love to give exercise a good shout out on here!
    ● Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones and also stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killer and mood elevator.

  3. Sleep

    ● Not getting enough sleep reduces your ability to cope with stress and decreases your body’s immune system. While sleep requirements vary from person to person, aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night to function at your very best.

  4. Balanced diet

    ● A healthy diet, low in sugar, caffeine and alcohol can promote health and help to decrease stress.
    ● A healthy diet also helps to decrease risk of osteoporosis and arthritis that can be linked to obesity.

So. Pause. Take some slow deep breaths. Even for just for 10sec at the end of reading this post and hopefully this helped to guide you on the path to less stress and healthier bones....

Now all the bad news is out of the way, I want to explain why stress is also good for your bones! No, I’m not being a hypocrite... Read on and (weight) bear with me.

Bones are the framework for our body. They help to protect vital organs, make blood cells and store minerals. Unhealthy bones can lead to fractures which can then result in significant morbidity and limitations of daily activities. We need to look after them!

Bones become stronger when a certain amount of impact or extra strain (“stress” - see, told you it would make sense) is placed on them.

If loading on a bone increases, bone will remodel itself over time and become stronger in order to resist that loading. The opposite is true as well, if loading decreases, the bone will become less dense and weaker due to lack of stimulus. This is known as Wolff’s law.

This means that there are specific types of exercises that are better for your bones to keep them strong.

But which exercises you ask??

Weight bearing exercises are the best for bone health. So those exercises that rely on your own body weight (jogging, skipping, jumping, push-ups etc) or progressive resistance training (lifting weights). As I said above, if you continually progress loading on the bones, they will get stronger (See previous blog on progressive overload to learn more).

Alongside exercise, it is also important to manage modifiable risk factors in order to optimise bone development and minimise bone breakdown. Some of those include:

  • Balanced diet - avoid excess sugar, caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Management of other medical conditions
  • Managing vitamin D and calcium levels
  • Weight management

As always, have a chat to your Be Mobile Physiotherapist about what exercises will be best for you to help you to look after your bones!


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