The story is a familiar one: an older woman falls, breaks her hip and never regains her mobility and independence. She soon moves to a nursing home. The cause was osteoporosis, which changed her life completely and left her and her family feeling frustrated. At Emerson’s Steinberg Wellness Center for Mind and Body, women are preventing and curing themselves of osteoporosis thanks to a class called Osteofitness — a proven approach that is shaped by research.
Osteoporosis — a condition that causes bones to become porous and vulnerable to fractures — often reveals itself after it wreaks damage: when someone falls or when a woman who is post-menopause realizes she has lost an inch of height due to compression of her spine.
A combination of factors convinced Beverley Ikier (pictured on left helping a student), a board-certified muscular therapist and bodyworker who has a nursing background, to focus on osteoporosis. Ms. Ikier was teaching aerobics classes when a seminal book appeared. “Strong Women Stay Young,” written by Miriam Nelson, PhD, former faculty member at Tufts University, represented a breakthrough in its assertion that, at any age, exercise that includes weight training has huge benefits.
“After attending Miriam’s seminars to learn her techniques, I began collecting bone density reports from my students,” she recalls. “It became evident that hips were slow to respond to the program. The bone density in the wrist and spine would improve, but the head of the femur — the ball portion of the hip socket — remained porous.
“It appeared that tight hips — where the range of motion is limited — contribute to insufficient nutrient absorption. This has an impact on one’s ability to strengthen the hips.”
Ms. Ikier set out to solve the problem — one that affects many women. Although there are medications available to treat osteoporosis, some are known to have side effects. “My nursing background spurred me to be proactive about osteoporosis, so I began spying on yoga classes and chiropractic practices,” she says. “I wondered what the world of holistic health might offer.”
By drawing on her experience, observations and drive to solve a stubborn problem, Ms. Ikier developed a unique approach to exercise, called Osteofitness, that is specifically designed to address osteoporosis — and notably, the hips. “Osteofitness includes multiple exercises for hip rotation, which students also perform at home,” she notes. In addition, class members respond well to massage of the hip structure — the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia.
Word of mouth is strong, including among physicians
Osteofitness took off as soon as Ms. Ikier began offering the class in Burlington a few years ago. “I started looking for a wellness center with people who think the way I do — who are finding new ways to treat medical conditions,” she says. “I saw the catalogue for Emerson’s wellness center and was impressed to see such an eclectic list of classes and movement styles. And I noticed there was no class that addressed osteoporosis.”
When she contacted Patti Salvatore, director of the Steinberg Wellness Center, her response was immediate. “We already offered programs for individuals with arthritis,” says Ms. Salvatore, “but we had nothing for osteoporosis. We needed Beverley’s program, which is results-oriented. Some of her students have cured themselves of osteoporosis and no longer need medication.”
Ms. Ikier moved her practice to Emerson, where her Osteofitness classes took off. “The word of mouth has been amazing,” says Ms. Salvatore.
It extends to Emerson physicians, including Meena Garg, MD
, a primary care physician. “A large number of my patients have osteoporosis, so I am pleased to have such an effective program available at Emerson,” says Dr. Garg, who invited Ms. Ikier to make a presentation to her physician colleagues.
The program is comprehensive; Ms. Ikier also addresses the importance of diet. “I hand out lists of food with their calcium values, along with menus that have the required calcium, magnesium, vitamin D3 and K2,” she says. “We enjoy the Calcium Cafe and ice cream socials. Everything we do is about building bone.”
The benefits go beyond addressing osteoporosis. Osteofitness students report seeing improvements in their posture, balance, strength and mobility. “The students share their bone density results, encourage each other and swap recipes,” says Ms. Ikier. “Many of them tell me they see a change after just three classes. Some say they look better, while others tell me they can garden longer.”
Some take advantage of Ms. Ikier’s musculotherapy expertise. She provides private sessions in the center’s new treatment rooms. “If someone taking Osteofitness has difficulty with certain movements, I can work on their problem,” she says. “For example, musculotherapy is a good way to loosen up shoulders.”
Seeing Osteofitness gain such an appreciative audience has convinced Ms. Ikier that people want help in aging safely with the goal of maintaining their independence. “I encourage my students to abolish the myths about aging and losing function,” she says. “Instead, I encourage them to live in the moment and be aware of their potential to be strong and healthy.”