Friday, December 27, 2013

Exercise to Increase Bone Density

Photo by smcgee.
In September of this year, I found out that my bones are below the ideal limits for density.  I don't have osteoporosis--yet.  The range I'm in is a newly defined zone called osteopenia.  All is not lost. I still have a lot of control over my bone density. I can improve my diet with calcium-rich foods, and I can do bone-strengthening exercises.

Anyone started an exercise regime should first consult with a doctor, especially if you already have some medical conditions.  For example, those with osteoporosis should avoid doing a number of types of exercises, such as football, soccer, forward bends and twists because of a risk of injury.  See your physician for a more complete warning list.

I have exercised regularly in my life, so I was surprised when my DXA scan showed that my bones weren't adequately dense for my age (early 50s). Once I started looking at more information about bone-strengthening exercises, I saw a few problems.
  • I don't weigh very much, which puts me in a high-risk category.
  • I quit running in my mid-20s due to heal spurs and switched to low-impact machines.
  • I haven't included strength training in my exercise routine: just cardio and stretching.
  • I am too sedentary outside of my daily exercise routine. I sit for hours to read and write.
Young people, take note! Being told that I have osteopenia makes me want to feed high-calcium diets to every growing girl. And it makes me want to grab every 20 year old woman by the shoulders and look her in the eye. "You are going to start losing bone density in your mid 30s if you don't add weight-bearing exercise to your workout routine. Do everything you can for the next several decades to improve your bone density!"

But I can't travel back in time myself. I need to work in the present for better bone health. And everything I read about aging and fitness suggests that it's never too late to start an exercise regime. 

Consequently, I'm trying to incorporate more bone-strengthening activities:
  • Stair climbing.  I  used to ask  my kids to run down into the basement to get me forgotten  items. No more. I get my own things and volunteer to get theirs. I also sometimes just run the stairs 3-5 times as a break from writing. I also avoid elevators and take the stairs.  
  • Strength training.  I received some free training on the weight machines when I joined the YMCA 5  years ago. I kept a routine for about six  months on my own and then slacked off in favor of cardio machines and cardio workouts. I need to incorporate weight training at least 3 times a week. 
  • Walking.  I used to read in my car while I waited for my son while he attends early morning scripture study. Now I spend the 50 minutes walking in the gym at the church.  I could walk the dog more, too. The dog would see that as a win-win. 
There is more to say about exercise and bone density, but this information and the links provide a good running start.  I have a goal to write a monthly post on bone density. (This helps motivate me to increase my own bone-healthy behaviors.)  Consequently, I just might expand on one of the above forms of exercise listed above.

Do something today to improve bone health.  Bone-strengthening exercises will help you maintain mobility for a longer period of time--keeping you from having to use a cane, a walker or a wheelchair. 


What Is Osteopenia?
Calcium and Bone Health


  1. I received this same diagnosis in my mid 40's and have been working to address it ever since. Kudos to you for your efforts as well. :)

    1. Here's to better bone health in 2014. I'll be thinking of you and my fellow midlifers every time I skip the elevator and take the stairs.

  2. Excellent reminder, and an important message for our kids. I also have osteopenia and I understand how important it is to do weight-bearing exercises to prevent loss of bone density.

    1. I have a 12 yo daughter. I need to talk to her more about bone health while she has all that time on her side. Hugs and healthy bones to you in 2014.

  3. I was officially diagnosed with osteoporosis last year and began working with a trainer one week before I turned 60! I am still going and I keep the image of a bent over little lady in my mind to drive me forward. After six months, it is great to finally feel stronger. I also work out with four friends and we hold each other accountable!

    1. You are smart to get a trainer and work out with friends. I could be doing a lot more. I'm trying to lift 3x a week, but it ends up being 1x a week. Gah! Maybe if I had a lifting buddy, I'd follow through more consistently. My best to you as you work to improve your bone health. Rock on, Pam!

  4. That's a great plan to build bone strength. I have walked for exercise most of the past 12 years which has helped me. What made your physician test your bone density?

    1. Kay Lynn: I am an adjunct at a local university (WSU, Go Shocker!) that houses a lot of departments dedicated to health care. The human factors lab was offering free DXA scans (and other tests) for people 50 to 75. I thought I would be praised for my great overall health (especially for being one of the younger participants). But the scan showed my hips are precariously close to ostereoporosis. The university scan could not be used for medical diagnosing purposes, but I showed them to my GP and she ordered a DXA can on their machine. Again, my hips were the weakest bones in my body. So I'm trying to improve my diet and exercise to maintain better bone health. Thanks for stopping by.