Dec 20, 2022
What is the optimal exercise for bone density benefit? A question you may be asking. A question I recommend you ask as you think about your own urgency, current status, past exercise history, and risk of fracture.
Heavy Strength: 10 or Fewer Repetitions
Yet not all women over 40 can. Limited by co-existing conditions, occurrence of new, or problems with previous injuries there may be a point where you need to define the heaviest healthy range of resistance training that you’re able to do.
More repetitions with lighter weight is a positive influence for muscle and for strength as long as the temporary muscular fatigue is reached. It does not have the same level of positive impact on bone.
Training with power has been proven to outperform bone density benefits compared to slow controlled lifting and lowering. An added benefit of using power is that it can be done (and should) with lighter weight for safety. For instance, a heavy weight at 80% of a 1-rep max is equivalent to 10 or fewer repetitions.
(We would never test a woman at risk for osteoporosis with a 1-rep or a 3-rep max test and risk injury. Instead, the correlation is proven consistently and if we can get a woman to find true fatigue at 10 or fewer repetitions, we have enough evidence to believe she’s at adequate stimulus).
That said, again, injuries – or feelings of vulnerability for injury - may begin to surface for women as they approach this weight. So, the addition of power allows – actually demands- a reduction of that weight to a point you feel more comfortable controlling it and are able to quickly lift the weight, decelerate, and lower under control. This addition of power has been shown to be slightly more beneficial to both bone density and to metabolism in women in menopause. (Referenced in my book You Still Got It, Girl!)
It's also a must that women begin with lighter weight and higher repetitions to build a foundation. Focus on bone density can’t be an isolated venture. Your muscle is fairly resilient. Your joints, ligaments and tendons need a much longer time to adapt. Over at least 8 weeks, making it months before a woman is ready to “go heavy” or can identify where she needs to be for safely lifting is intelligent exercise.
Women in midlife have a tendency toward injury as a result of fluctuating hormones trending down. Surges and dropping estrogen levels increase injury risk in ways that may heavy lifting optimal and make other types of activity like high impact exercise (also beneficial for bone density) higher risk of injury.
Chances are that as a woman in her 50s or older, you sailed through your exercise life completely unaware of the influence of hormones that made certain weeks of your cycle perfect for lifting heavy but terrible for bootcamp moves and rapid change of direction. You had no idea that simply walking and doing yoga during certain weeks would have accelerated your fitness level and boosted your energy instead of being trained and drained
Yoga Exercise for Bone Density
Yoga improves bone density… and continues to have influence over time. Twelve exercises, each done for a minute, and one of them the corpse pose where a yogi is literally laying on the ground, have been proven to increase bone density.
The research continues on yoga and my advice is proceed with caution. While it’s easy for me to accept upper body weight bearing poses have a positive bone benefit in upper body specifically, accepting static poses performed one minute each have more bone density influence that high impact weight bearing activity or weight training is challenging.
I also recommend you understand the connection between stress and both sarcopenia (muscle loss) and bone mass as a result. We need muscle to pull on bone, to improve our ability to do the things that enhance bone density. Stress and the cortisol from it are in direct opposition to those goals.
The continuum of exercise influence is something we must consider. For an inactive woman beginning yoga, there will be more bone influence than for an avid exerciser regularly jump roping and lifting heavy weight. Will yoga poses also help the avid exerciser, potentially yes, in specific ways that the other activity does not. But it’s not going to have more influence on hip or spinal bone than does the other activity.
If your exercise time has room for it, I say include it all. Mobility and balance benefits are important to us all.
Weight Bearing Exercise
All weight bearing exercise is not equal when it comes to bone density benefits. All weight bearing exercise may not be possible for all individuals. A recent YouTube video I created demonstrated 14 moves for bone density from least to most ground forces. That is, from lowest beneficial bone density to greatest bone density benefit.
Any individual watching my follow along and find a division between one exercise being doable for them and the next being too high a risk for other conditions. Not all exercises in the progression will work for any individual. And that is why we do a comprehensive blueprint for you at Flipping 50.
Additional low-level activity is not supportive of positive bone density increase. That is, longer walks don’t improve bone density over shorter ones beyond a baseline gain. There is no more more Minimum Effective Stress after initial adaptations. Likewise with runners. In fact, longer endurance running or chronic cardio can be more muscle-wasting and if it creates a smaller frame can have the opposite effect on bone.
The same is true of higher repetitions with lower weight. The threshold of stimulus direct to bone is minimized.
That said, walking and weight training to muscle fatigue and many activities without direct bone stimulus are wonderful and effective exercise. It’s key for you to determine your highest priority. Begin with a slow and intelligent progression to the goal or to the point where you’re limited and find your personal safe threshold of exercise.
“Just Walk” Advice Fails You
Though walking is indeed weight bearing exercise and is a beneficial step in beginning more bone-specific beneficial exercise, it’s not enough. If you are able to do more and bone density is your goal, you need to see higher impact and include weight resistance exercise.
If you have results of your bone scan, hopefully you’ve reviewed these and know what your status is, whether you’re still losing bone or have stopped it. You should get based on your numbers an indication of your fracture risk. That together with medications you may be taking, lifestyle habits you’ve had in the past, and your current fitness status (balance, posture, coordination, reaction skills, strength) should be used to consider your personal start. If you’re apparently healthy, active, and yet have discovered you have low bone density from a scan, you shouldn’t necessarily stop activities you have been doing. You will want to get more specific with how you prioritize your exercise time to improve your exercise influence on bone.
Many ask, “Can I do that if I have osteoporosis?” The answer today is, with a trainer or medical exercise specialist aware of osteoporosis concerns, you’re much more at risk not exercising than exercising. Bootcamps with all populations and ages, featuring abrupt movement, frenzied pace, are likely not your ideal exercise. Thoughtful programs including high impact and high intensity, as you are ready, have recently been proven to be safe, effective, and enjoyed by menopausal women with osteoporosis who had not previously been exercising.
Summary of Exercise for Bone Density:
Additional Resources You May Like:
Bone Health, Osteoporosis, Osteopenia Tips You’ve Never Heard:
From Osteoporosis Diagnosis to Bone Density Success Story:
Bone Density Supplement Safety & Osteoporosis:
14 Weight Bearing Moves for Bone Density | Osteoporosis Prevention:
12 Yoga Poses for Bone Density: