One of the most widely common problems is also one you might not even know you have – osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that makes bones weak and brittle because new bone creation does not keep up with old bone removal. This condition that can lead to even more serious problems like falls and broken bones. Osteoporosis mostly affects women over 41-years old (4). However, exercise is a great way to be proactive! Most of us have heard that weight-bearing exercises are effective in preventing and treating osteoporosis, but have you ever been told why? Luckily, we’re about to tell you! We are going to delve into how and why loading up the body helps rebuild bone structure.
Your Ever-changing Bones
Let’s start by talking about general bone structure. Your body is constantly stripping bone away and replacing it with new bone; similar to your skin sloughing away and regenerating new cells. The problem with osteoporosis comes when your body can’t replace bone at the same pace as it removes bone. In order to initiate new bone growth, stress that is slightly greater than the stress caused from everyday tension must be put on bones. Once this happens on a regular basis, the body allocates resources and nutrients to build bone mass in order to resist fractures (2). A regular exercise routine provides both the necessary stress to the bones and regular occurrence needed for the rebuilding process to occur.
What Kind of Exercise is Best?
Exercise is crucial because physical inactivity has been shown to decrease bone density and cause other health issues. At this point, you may be asking yourself what kind of exercise you should be doing to prevent osteoporosis. While both aerobic exercise and resistance training can provide the weight-bearing stimulation needed for bone growth, resistance training in particular is able to be more site-specific than aerobic exercise and it can target certain body parts (3). Other types of exercise are helpful to prevent osteoporosis, but a progressive loading style resistance program, one in which the weight you are lifting is increased little by little after each set, is best for stressing bones in a way that promotes bone growth.
Since we have determined what type of exercise you need to be doing, let us discuss the structure of your exercise program. Exercise structure can be changed up in order to keep things fun. For example, check out the two exercise programs below for simple sit-to-stands below:
Tip: To do a sit-to-stand, set up a chair in your home and stand up and sit down without using your hands
Option 1: [4×12] Routine. T
- Round 1: 12 sit-to-stands. Rest.
- Round 2: 12 sit-to-stands. Rest.
- Round 3: 12 sit-to-stands. Rest.
- Round 4: 12 sit-to-stands. Rest.
Between rounds, add weight little by little to increase the load.
Option 2: Drop Set [5×12, 10, 8, 6, 4]
- Round 1: 12 sit-to-stands. Rest
- Round 2: 10 sit-to-stands. Rest
- Round 3: 8 sit-to-stands. Rest.
- Round 4: 6 sit-to-stands. Rest.
- Round 5: 4 sit-to-stands.
The key to this type of routine is to increase the weight between rounds at a greater rate than in the [4×12] routine. Since you are doing less reps you should increase the load more significantly each set.
Your choice in movement is also a factor in an effective workout routine. Exercises that involve multi-joint movements have been shown to have a more significant change in bone structure than exercises that isolate one muscle or body part (2). Bending simultaneously at the hip and knee is a good way to encourage bone growth at the hip and femur. Pulling and pushing motions while bracing the core are great ways to incorporate multi-joint movements to increase bone density in the arms, spine, and shoulder structures. For spinal health, isometric (not changing muscle length) core-specific training is key and make sure to avoid core movements that require forward bending, like crunches (1).
Now that we’ve covered designing your structured movement plan, you are ready to prevent or reverse osteoporosis! These adaptations generally take about six months to see a change in bone density, but the change is initiated within the first few sessions (2). Be patient and don’t get discouraged! Come in and see one of our physical therapists for an evaluation and to talk about some more ways to safely strengthen your bones to prevent falls and increase bone density. Keep working hard and graduate to work with one of our Wellness Coordinators and progress your movements to the next level!
- Bone, Muscle and Joint Team. “The Best Workouts for Osteoporosis.” Health Essentials, 2018, health.clevelandclinic.org/the-best-workouts-for-osteoporosis/.
- French, Duncan. “Chapter 5: Adaptations to Anaerobic Training Programs.” Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, by Greg Haff and N. Travis Triplett, Human Kinetics, 2016, pp. 97–99.
- Layne, JE, and ME Nelson. The Effects of Progressive Resistance Training on Bone Density: a Review.1999, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9927006.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Osteoporosis.” Mayo Clinic, 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351968.