Make or break in osteoporosis fight

THE number of older people developing osteoporosis in Ireland is on the increase.

According to the latest research, one in four Irish women and one in 20 Irish men will suffer a fracture due to osteoporosis, the thinning of the bones, by the age of 60.

A lack of calcium and a sedentary lifestyle are the main factors to blame.

Brenda Cahill, a fitness instructor, runs Osteofit classes, in Co Limerick, to tackle this problem by increasing bone density in the hips, wrists and spine and to improve balance.

“Osteoporosis is a silent disease,’’ she says. “Most people don’t know they have it until they fall and break a bone. It will then show up on the X-ray.

“My advice to anyone is to go for a DXA scan, which measures your bone density. About five years ago, at the age of 40, I went for one, out of curiosity, and found I had osteopenia, which is the early stages of osteoporosis.’’

Determined to take control of her health, Brenda founded Osteofit.

Two years ago, Eileen Woulfe, 69, a retired guest-house owner from Bunratty, Co Clare, fell on ice and broke her hip. As she slowly learnt to walk again, she “swore’’ to herself that if she properly recovered, she would take up exercise.

“I would have been the laziest slouch you ever came across,’’ she says, laughing. “But Osteofit has switched my life around. It is a confidence builder. My strength, flexibility and balance have improved. I have a totally different body.

“My fall frightened the wits out of me. I really would not want to do that again. But if you are steady on your feet, you won’t fall. If you are timid, you will. You learn to walk tall. Brenda always says: ‘Stand up, bring in your tummy, straighten your back, don’t slouch and head up’.”

After slipping on the grass, and breaking her ankle, four years ago, Miriam Woods, 70, an administrator for a property developer, was diagnosed with osteopenia, and was warned that if she did not take action she might develop osteoporosis.

“I wanted to avoid that more than anything,’’ she says. “I have now been doing Osteofit for two years and I feel really great. I can see, from week to week, the improvement. Brenda will tell you to do the balance exercises and then close your eyes. At the beginning, none of us could do it, but, now, I can do it for five seconds, which I think is very good.’’

Both Eileen and Miriam attend the class at Cratloe community centre, Co Clare, and say that the exercises are simple and can be done at home.

“It’s so gentle, it is a real pleasure to do. It’s not like you are bouncing up and down. It is to do with strengthening and preventative falling, to get stability on your feet,’’ says Eileen.

Brenda says anyone interested in joining an Osteofit class should ensure that their instructor is qualified and that they get their doctor’s approval before signing up. She says that her clients also fill in a screening form, detailing any health issues.

“Anyone can do Osteofit, but their doctor’s approval is essential. I have had people with hip replacements, broken ankles, legs and arms. People with arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes and vertigo. They can all do the exercises, but it is at their own pace. It is not a competition,’’ she says.

“I get great satisfaction from seeing people improving. One minute they are wobbling all over the place, the next they are perfectly posed.’’

* Contact Brenda Cahill or phone 087-2255676.


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