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Osteoporosis Exercises & Tips To Improve Bone Density

Worried about loss of bone density as you age? Let's dive into osteoporosis, what it is, and what you can do about it.

 

Osteoporosis Definition & Background

 

Osteoporosis is a growing problem among seniors. Osteoporosis is a bone disease which causes bones to become weak, brittle, and easily susceptible to fractures and breaks. About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone density putting them at an increased risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis symptoms can be difficult to look for because there are typically no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss. As the bones weaken, symptoms may include back pain, poor posture, stooped back and neck, loss of height, and bone breaks. While the discomfort and loss of mobility may be enough reason to search for solutions – it’s far more serious.

 

Osteoporosis has become a leading cause of morbidity and premature mortality in elderly women. While men and women are both susceptible to falls later in life, women face more serious adverse outcomes such as broken bones, surgical complications, and even death. An estimated 20% of seniors who break a hip will die within one year and a much higher percentage require long-term care (1). 

 

In addition to the physical stress and emotional distress associated with the decrease in quality of life and lack of freedom, osteoporosis places a significant financial burden on families as well. Between with the rising costs of healthcare, surgery, physical therapy, caretakers and long-term care facility – it is estimated that osteoporosis is responsible for $19 billion in related costs annually in the U.S. alone (1).

 

Exercise For Osteoporosis Prevention & Treatment

 

Thankfully, there are solutions! Bone is living tissue in your body that can weaken or get stronger just like muscle. Physical activity has been shown to improve bone density and aid in osteoporosis prevention and reduce osteoporosis pain. We’ll show you how to incorporate exercise into your daily routine and use fitness to build confidence and an independent life. 

 

There are two main exercises used to build and maintain bone density:

 

(1) weight bearing exercises

 

(2) resistance training

 

Weight bearing exercises include any movements that have you working against gravity. This includes walking, hiking, climbing up stairs, tennis, pickleball, step aerobics, dance, etc.

 

Exercises like swimming, water aerobics, cycling, and rowing are worthwhile and great for cardiovascular strength and joint pain – but – are not considered weight bearing. These movements can be incorporated into regimen but must be supplemented with exercises that will increase bone density.

 

Resistance training is any type of exercise that strengthens the muscles. Resistance training is often misunderstood – you don’t have to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger! Unless of course, that’s what you’re going for.

 

There are many ways to resistance train using bodyweight, dumbbells, bands, kettlebells, weight machines, etc.

 

Resistance training not only builds muscular strength and bone density but is beneficial for gait, balance, coordination, proprioception and reaction time at any age (2).  Even better news? It’s never too late to get into resistance training! The benefits of happen at any age.

 

We see it often where clients, family, and friends are either intimidated or think it’s too late to start resistance training. In reality, it could quite literally be the difference between life and death for many folks.

 

Case study: A lot of research has been done on resistance training for increased bone density. In this study, researchers were measuring the effect of resistance training on bone mineral density of 29 men with an average age of 71 years old – (71!).

 

After just 12 weeks of training they found an increase in whole body mineral density (3). The six specific resistance training exercises that yielded the largest improvements in bone mineral density:

 

(1) squat

 

(2) military press

 

(3) lateral pulldown

 

(4) leg press

 

(5) back extension

 

(6) seated row

 

All of these exercises are compound movements, meaning they use multiple different muscle groups to produce force. This allows you to lift relatively heavier weights. Seniors tend to lean towards lighter weights and higher volume – however – this research showed that working with heavier weights and lower volume yielded the best results for bone density (3).

 

Study suggestion:

 

-3 weight training sessions per week

 

-2 sets of each exercise alternating between moderate (6–8 reps at 70% of 1 rep max/heaviest possible) and heavy (4–6 reps at 80% of rep max/heaviest possible)

 

This is a clear indication that heavy strength training is very beneficial for seniors however it isn’t common. Why is that?

 

A big issue is that the information is not widely known. This is not information that is given to people by doctors as they age and seems especially rare in the case of women.

 

Another issue is that osteoporosis has no signs or symptoms, so unless your doctor is being proactive and testing your bone mineral density you may not know you have it until you have a fracture.

 

We get it, resistance training can be intimidating! If you’ve never lifted weights before, a gym can be very overwhelming and you may just end up on the cardio machines because they are much more self-explanatory and familiar.

 

Lastly, the fear of getting hurt is a valid concern. If weight training is done wrong, especially if you are already in a compromised state, risk of injury is there.

 

If you want to take your health seriously and feel your best everyday, reaching out to a personal trainer to teach you the right way to train is highly recommended.

 

How to Get Started

 

Consistency is key!


Pick a schedule and stick to it. Maybe spend 10 minutes before lunch everyday and tackle a few of the exercises; maybe you already walk regularly and can incorporate these movements right before or right after your walk; perhaps first thing in the morning feels good to get it out of the way – whatever the case may be, be consistent!


As with any fitness adaptation if you don’t use it, you lose it. At the beginning of a new workout routine our motivation is very high and we want to workout a lot which may not be sustainable long term. Pick a frequency that is a little bit more moderate and stay with it for the long haul and you will see better results.

 

Need help getting started? We’re here to help!

 

 

 

 

 

(1)“Learn What Osteoporosis Is and What It's Caused By.” National Osteoporosis Foundation, 12 Apr. 2021, www.nof.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/.
 
(2)Siegrist, Monika. “Role of Physical Activity in the Prevention of Osteoporosis].” Europe PMC, 1 July 2008, europepmc.org/article/med/18808074.
 
(3)Sundell, Jan. “Resistance Training Is an Effective Tool against Metabolic and Frailty Syndromes.” Hindawi, Advances in Preventive Medicine, 13 Dec. 2010, www.hindawi.com/journals/apm/2011/984683/.
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