Using a weighted vest long term is just as effective as drug therapy in building bone mass, according to research reports. And based on my personal experience I can tell you that with regular use you will enjoy better balance, experience fewer falls and build both full body strength and bone strength.
With these amazing results, a lot of you have more questions about how the vest works, what you need to do, and if it is safe for you to try. Here are answers to the top questions I receive about wearing a weighted vest:
Q: Will a weight vest really help me build bone?
A: Several clinical studies (see references below) have demonstrated how regular use of the weight vest helps to build bone density by adding extra weight and a greater impact to your steps. This is especially critical for thin women, who have less of a weight-bearing effect on their bones when they walk.
As you use the vest over time, you’ll note that you are building muscle strength. Remember, studies show that as you build muscle, you also build bone.
Q: How often should I use the vest?
A: It’s best to use the vest daily or at least every other day. The most bone-strengthening benefits are seen with regular, long-term use over the years.
Personally, I’ve worked up to putting 19 pounds in my vest — and I really like to wear the vest when I walk my dog. Each time the dog stops to smell a mail box, I do a few small hops giving additional impact to the hip.
Q: How much time should I wear the vest?
For most healthy individuals the answer is the longer you have it on the better. Various studies used the vest for at least 1 hour, 3 times a week. Remember, it is important to build up strength and work up slowly on the weights. And, take the vest off when you find yourself getting fatigued.
Q: How much weight do I start with?
A: You should start with 1 to 2 pounds of weight. The vest itself weighs 1 pound, so a gentle start is to add 1 extra pound (which equals 2 of the flexible weight packets) to get started. You’re working toward a goal of loading the vest with 10% of your body weight. For example, a woman who weighs 100 pounds would work up to 10 pounds in the vest.
Q: What is the maximum amount of weight I can use in the vest?
A: The vest has pockets to hold 18 pounds of flex-weights, plus the vest itself which weighs 1 pound.
Q: How do I put the weights in the vest?
A: The unique soft flex metal weights are very easy to manipulate in and out of the pockets on the vest. They are even easy to use for anyone with arthritis.
Q: What activities can I do in this vest?
A: Most all activities! It is great to wear the vest while doing a wide range of activities — from walking to housework to strength training, Pilates, and yoga. Wearing the vest is a great way to accomplish more during your exercise time.
Q: Can I jog while wearing this vest?
A: Yes, if you like to jog and jogging with the vest is comfortable for you, this would be a great way to get extra bone-building impact with each step. This particularly strengthens the hip.
Q: Does the vest adjust to fit my size?
A: This vest is fully adjustable and fits most everyone from very petite women to larger-boned women. It adjusts on the shoulder for women who are short in the torso or for those who are tall (from under 24 inches to over 50 inches). In addition this vest adjusts around the waist for a snug fit. This high quality Women’s Zipper Front Vest™ can quickly be adjusted to fit women from below 5 feet to over 6 feet tall.
Q: What is the vest made of?
A: The outer shell is nylon with a knitted nylon stretch neoprene chest. The vest has soft double stitched bound edges with Lycra and neoprene stretch pockets for the weights. There is comfortable padding in shoulders with the back and waist shoulder adjustments.
Q: Is the vest washable?
A: The Women’s Zipper Front Vest™ can be hand washed with the weights inside or machine washed with the weights removed.
Q: Will the extra flex-metal weights from my existing vest also work with this vest?
A: Yes, you can add other weights you have as long as they fit into the pockets.
Q: I have pain issues. Can I use this vest?
A: This really depends on the sort of pain you have. You should always check with your physician or physical therapist before beginning any exercise regimen if you have pain. Take special care to seek professional advice before using the vest if you have any sort of back pain.
Q: What if I don’t like, or can’t use, this vest after I buy it?
A: You can try the vest for two weeks from the date of delivery. If in that time you decide it is not for you, we will refund you the cost of the vest minus the shipping.
Q: Do I need my doctor’s permission to use this vest?
A: The vest is very safe because you are in total control of the amount of weight you put in it. By itself, or say, with one weight in it, it is like wearing a jacket. If course, if you have a special health concern, or a back issue, it is wise to discuss the use of this vest with your doctor.
We need a strong back as we age — to maintain good posture, stay more functional, be able to lift more (be it furniture, groceries, firewood, babies) and be pain free and more playful with kids or grandkids. In short, to stay active life-long and have more fun.
Now we can add spinal bone strengthening to our list of reasons for building stronger back muscles. In new research from Korea, women aged 60 to 75 underwent both magnetic resonance imaging of the paraspinal muscles (the muscles that run up the back along either side the spine) and bone mineral density testing. Those women with well-developed lower back spinal muscles enjoyed higher bone density as compared to those with less back muscle mass.
The average woman without a regular exercise program to strengthen the lower back muscles loses 50% of her back muscle strength between the ages of 50 and 80.
5 favorite exercises for strengthening the back muscles and spine
1. Build your back extensor muscles. My number one favorite exercise for strengthening the back was developed by the Mayo Clinic to help women who had previous spinal fractures. To perform, lay belly down on a flat surface (floor or even your bed to start) and raise your chest for a count of 10 before lowering your chest to your starting position. (See Gina from the Better Bones Exercise Evolution demonstrate this pose!) Practice this back extensor chest lift daily to help reduce new spinal fractures. Start with one rep per day and work up to 20 reps per day for five days a week. For extra strength, you can add a weighted backpack as illustrated below or wear a weighted vest.
2. Practice good posture, which is an exercise in itself. When your back, neck and head are in alignment, it’s a natural workout for the muscles of your spine. Stand tall, shoulders back but relaxed — imagine that you are showing off a lovely necklace. Another way to practice good posture is to stand against a wall and adjust your body until your buttocks, shoulders and head all touch the wall. Hold this position for a few minutes and notice the way your lower back muscles. They are getting a workout! This simple exercise can be done every day. Try to recreate this posture position as you go about your daily routine.
4. Mindful exercises like yoga help tostrengthen the spine. Several recent scientific studies document the positive effects of yoga on bone health in women of all ages. Results showed increased bone density in the spine and hips as measured by DEXA scans, as well as reduced markers of bone turnover. You want to seek out classes (online or in person) that are safe for women with bone health issues. Ask your instructor or look for classes specifically for women with osteoporosis. Poses that can be beneficial for bone health include the Vrksasana (tree pose), Utthita Trikonasana (extended triangle pose) and Virabhadrasana II (warrior pose II). This Yoga Journal article has helpful step-by-step pictures and directions of these poses.
5. Water aerobics. In a recent study, participants took part in a 20-minute aquatic exercise program for a period of six months. The exercise program featured jumping and hopping in chest-high water, along with arm movements for an overall high-intensity workout. At the end of the study, participants experienced increased bone density throughout the body, and specifically in the spine and femur, compared to a control group. As an added bonus, the exercise group also had greater leg strength and agility! We are just beginning to understand the benefits of swimming and other aquatic exercise for bone building and I encourage to learn more.
I recently read a great quote by the Founding Director of the National Institute on Aging, Robert Butler, MD. He wrote, “If doctors could prescribe exercise in a pill form, it would be the single most widely prescribed drug in the world.”
Almost all of us who are invested in our health already know that exercise is one of the most important factors in living a long and healthy life, but many of us are too busy to make time for it.
If you’re serious about maintaining strong and healthy bones throughout your life — and despite the wide prevalence of osteoporosis and osteopenia, it is entirely possible — exercise should move up on your list of priorities. But what type of exercise is best for bones? You may have heard that high intensity forms of exercise are good for bone-building. But it comes as a surprise to many women that mindful exercises like yoga or tai chi are also very helpful.
If your bones could talk…
If your bones could talk, they would say, “Show me you really need me!” Though it feels and looks solid, living bone is dynamic tissue that is constantly altered in response to motion and movement. The more your bones are called upon to carry weight, the more your body puts its resources into building them to support that weight. Bone and muscle are part of the same unit, and as you build muscle, you build bone by default. Here’s why: muscles are attached to bones by tendons. When muscles contract, the tendons tug on your bones, stimulating them to grow. The stronger the muscle, the more powerful the stimulation on the bone.
The best news is that everyone, from a young athlete to an elderly person confined to a wheelchair, can build bone mass with a combination of exercise, an alkaline diet, and bone-healthy nutritional supplements. And there are many options out there for you to explore (see the box above). From hopping on one or both legs during the commercial breaks of your favorite TV show to biking back and forth to work, there’s a way for you to make exercise a part of your life, and once your bones are called upon, their mass will increase.
What and how much exercise helps build bone?
As I have written in my book, Better Bones, Better Body, regular lifelong exercise is best for bone, but it’s never too late to begin building bone density with exercise. Your age, gender, current bone mass, and training history are all factors that will influence your choice of exercise for bone health. (Curious about your bones? Take our Bone health profile.)
The optimal exercise routines for men’s and women’s bone health is unknown and subject to much debate. But we do know that different forms of exercise benefit bone mineralization and the mechanical properties of bone in different ways for men and women of different age groups.
Mix it up!
Your bones respond best to unusual, unexpected bursts and varying combinations of forces, rather than routine workouts. Here are some ideas to help you achieve this:
Jump, skip or break into a jog when you wouldn’t normally.
Vary your weight-lifting repetitions, mixing heavier weights than you’re used to with lighter ones.
Include several bursts in your workout, where you increase your heart rate for a minute or so.
If you always use the treadmill, try dancing or yoga exercises every other work-out.
Try a whole body vibration platform if there’s one in your area
The standard party line is that exercise that requires high forces or generates high impact on the body (such as gymnastics, dance, or weight-lifting) is necessary to improve bone density. Generally speaking, the greater the force or impact, the more bone-growth stimulation. Scientific evidence does suggest we most efficiently build bone mass with a combination of high-impact exercise (such as jumping) and weight-lifting (which can include push-ups, yogic arm balances, using a weighted vest, etc.).
But other properties of bone besides mass make it resilient, such as its water content and cross-sectional geometry. That’s why non-weight-bearing or resistance exercise such as swimming, biking, and isometric exercise (like using the OsteoBall®) also have value, in that they can increase your bones’ flexibility and compression strength. Resistance exercise also decreases your risk of falling and fractures by enhancing balance, coordination, and muscle strength.
East meets West — osteoporosis and yoga, t’ai chi, qi gong, and Pilates
One way to increase the forces of resistance on your bones is with Eastern forms of exercise such as yoga, t’ai chi, or qi gong, and other alternative systems such as Pilates. We’re just now beginning to understand that the benefits we gain from such mind–body disciplines extend much further than simply strength and flexibility.
Practices like yoga and t’ai chi can improve balance, coordination, and focus — not to mention providing a boost in confidence! As we age, many of us become less confident when moving about, and while it’s good to be careful, hesitancy can make us more likely to fall and possibly fracture. And whether you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia or not, falling puts you at risk of fracture.
Several recent scientific studies document the positive effects of yoga on bone health in women of all ages. Results showed increased bone density in the spine and hips as measured by DEXA scans, as well as reduced markers of bone turnover.
In addition to the physical effects, there’s often a psychological benefit to Eastern practices. This can help enhance our natural mind-body connection and calm the autonomic nervous system, lowering adrenaline and cortisol, our primary stress hormones. These actions ultimately help bone and whole-body health. As Dr. Paul Lam notes on his Tai Chi for Osteoporosis DVD, “Practicing Tai Chi strengthens from the inside out.” When beginning from our hearts and minds, we are capable of great things in the whole body.
If it seems overwhelming to join a class to learn exercises, you might try familiarizing yourself first with the concepts with a DVD like the ones we offer on our website or take a look at our online exercise channel. You may find you prefer practicing in the comfort of your own home, or that you’re ready to find a local class. What I like about attending a class is that most instructors lead the class to move in different ways each session, rather than sticking with the same routine. And variety is great for bone.
Caption: Even gentle, low-impact exercises like those shown here can help build muscle and bone. Consult your physician before starting any new exercise program, and work with a physical therapist if there is concern about your risk of fracture.
Top row, left, leg lifts are performed lying flat on your back on a firm surface (a floor with a mat, for example). Top row, center, leg lifts on hands and knees – keep your back parallel to the ground and lift your leg only as high as is comfortable. Top row, right, arm squeeze in which you bring your elbows together in front of your face and return to a position perpendicular to the spine (do not twist at waist or turn or bend the spine.) Middle row, left, sit upright in a chair and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Do this holding weights if you can. Middle row, center, lift arms straight from your sides up above your head, with weights if you can. Middle row, right, raise yourself up on your toes, hold for as long as you can, then slowly lower yourself down again. Bottom: Start in a seated position with a chair in front of you for balance, raise yourself to your feet while maintaining upright posture. Lift your body using the muscles in your legs, buttocks, and lower back, not the muscles in your arms or upper back (extend your arms to the front chair for balance, but do not press upon the chair back).
Exercising for your bones — simple ideas to get you started
Go dancing with a friend or partner.
Take a walk each night after dinner or try wearing a pedometer during the day to track how much you walk.
Ride your bike to friends’ houses, stores, and work.
Run up and down your stairs a few times a day.
Purchase or borrow a Nintendo Wii Fit program (includes dance parties, yoga, tennis games, boxing, and more).
Jump rope or simply hop on one leg, then the other — or on both.
Try bursting several times during your regular exercise routine.
Use an X-iser step machine for a few minutes a day. Use steppers, free weights, and other strength training devices at your local gym, or wear a weight vest or belt during your workout.
Exercise: one way to stem menopausal bone loss
While both men and women can develop osteoporosis, women are far more likely than men to experience bone loss, and the critical time in their lives for bone health is the menopause transition. For years we’ve been told that women can lose up to one-fifth of their bone mass during the menopause transition, and that estrogen is the crucial player. But there is actually much more to the story — waning estrogen doesn’t make it impossible to build bone in perimenopause and menopause. Women’s bodies maintain bone best when our hormones are balanced, not just when they’re present at certain premenopausal levels. It also helps to exercise, eat an alkalizing diet, and take a quality multivitamin designed for bone building, like the ones we offer in our Better Bones Package.
I always tell women, the bone you’ve got is good. Let’s keep it! Exercise is an excellent way to maintain the bone you already have during this crucial transition time, and more rigorous strength training can make a big difference to bone mineral density during the early postmenopausal years.
If you want to build bone during the menopause transition, it may take a more intensive exercise plan. In the case of early post menopausal women with osteopenia, some research indicates that the isolated effect of simply increasing habitual physical activity does little to increase muscle strength. But don’t be discouraged by that — it just tells us that women with a diagnosis of osteopenia or who are otherwise at higher risk need a more deliberate exercise program than simply increasing habitual physical activity.
Exercise “dont’s” for those with osteoporosis or osteopenia
Some exercises aren’t recommended for those who have fractured or who have severe osteoporosis. Flexion exercises where you bend your spine significantly forward can increase the risk of vertebral fractures by putting excessive pressure on the vertebral bodies. Such exercises may include crunches where you round your back, touching your toes from a standing position, pulling your knees into your chest and lifting your chin and neck while on your back, or rounding your back over and downward while in a seated position. Extension exercises where you stretch up and flex backwards are generally safe for everyone.
Exercises that curve or bend the spine increase your chances of vertebral fracture.
It’s common for people diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia to be a little afraid of exercise, because they are worried their bones might fracture with any unusual activity. Such caution is warranted in some situations, such as if your bone density is very low compared to other women your age, or if your body is in a very deconditioned state. But in the vast majority, this is not the case. Almost everyone can start with a program of walking, and most can safely undertake a significant bone-building exercise program with great success. But it’s important to work with your healthcare practitioner and take care not to put excessive stress on weakened bones.
Take a look at our Better Bones Exercise Plan to begin your process, and make sure you discuss your goals with your practitioner.
How to get results — a Better Bones approach
For most of us, almost any exercise — as long it’s regular and not so intensive it causes damage — is good bone exercise. Your bones are designed to naturally break down and rebuild themselves to support the demands you place on them. But truly amazing changes come about when all the body’s systems are working synergistically. Here are the three core elements of our integrative bone health approach:
Create an exercise plan. Because everyone is starting from a different place, we put together a guide to help you design Your Better Bones Exercise Plan in a way that fits your unique needs and lifestyle.
Eat a plant-based, alkalizing diet. Just by living and breathing, we create an internal acid load, and because our bones are the body’s great buffers, an overly acidifying diet leaches buffering minerals from the bones to alkalize the blood. In contrast, fruits and vegetables provide alkalizing mineral reserves to counterbalance acid-forming metabolic processes. (See our articles on acid-alkaline balance).
Boost your bone-building vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids. Because even the healthiest diet doesn’t necessarily supply all that you need, I recommend taking high-quality nutritional supplements to ensure that you’re getting all 20 essential bone-building nutrients, such as vitamin D, vitamin K, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Combining these three elements — regular exercise, an alkalizing diet, and high-quality supplements — will make it much more likely for you to get the results you’re looking for. Adopting this approach can also give you a surprising bonus: improved energy and whole-body wellness, well into old age.
Tips for safe exercise
Exercise within your comfort zone.
Avoid movements that cause pain.
Maintain good posture and avoid rounding your back.
Be sure to warm up and stretch your muscles.
Work with a physical therapist if you have experienced an osteoporotic fracture.
As a mother and busy practitioner myself, I know how tough it can be to find the time and inspiration to exercise regularly. But it’s so important for your bones, and I promise, when you find something you love doing, it will become second nature.
Be creative, explore, and be willing to try something new or combine different forms of exercise. Avoid anything that feels like one more chore. When you exercise in a way that replenishes you it triggers the reward cascade in your brain — you’ll know it when you experience it!
There is so much out there. Fully embracing your exercise routine will not only help you to maintain and build new bone, but will enhance your outlook, longevity, and whole-body health.
If you strengthen your wrists you may be helping yourself more than you think. Wrist fractures are “sentinels” of bone fracture risk; in fact, having a low-trauma wrist fracture may be more important than a diagnosis of osteoporosis in determining risk for subsequent hip fracture.
It makes perfect sense — when we fall, the reflex to throw out our hands and take the impact on the wrists protects our hips from being injured far more seriously. As we get older, that reflex isn’t as quick, and thus we have greater frequency of hip rather than wrist fractures.
So how do you know if your wrists are strong enough to stop your fall? And if they’re not — what do you do about it?
Get a grip on your grip strength
To start, figure out how strong your grip is. Grip strength is a marker of overall muscle strength. As studies have shown, muscle weakness as measured by grip strength is a predictor of unhealthy outcomes including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, disability and even early mortality (Correia Martins et al., 2018).
One sign that your grip may be getting weaker is if you notice that opening jars is getting a bit harder. My favorite tool for measuring grip strength is a simple hand held-dynamometer. Simply squeeze the handle of this device as strongly as you can to measure your grip strength. Grip strength norms by age have been well established, so it is easy to see how yours compare (Massey-Westropp et al., 2011).
Exercise to strengthen your wrists
If your wrists aren’t as strong as you’d like, there’s certainly much you can do to change that. But first, understand that dominance has a profound effect on strength of the wrist and the bone mineral density of the wrist and forearm.
You might want to jot down the grip strength difference between your dominant and non-dominant arm and then exercise and non-dominant arm specifically to bring it up to the same strength level as a dominant arm. After all, we might have to stop a fall with either wrist, so we want to have both wrists as strong as possible.
Here are some basic exercise principles to strengthen your wrists:
The impact of exercise is “site-specific” — that is, if you strengthen the muscles around the wrist, you will strengthen the wrist. That means that you need to load, and thus strengthen, all the muscles around the wrist and arm.
Simply doing one type of exercise, such as a wrist curl, isn’t going to cut it. It only exercises one set of muscles, so you need to include wrist exercises that involve a full range of motion of the hand and wrist. See our exercise graphic below for ideas!
As with all exercises, start slow and build up. You do not want to overdo it.
Maintain a healthy skeleton
Of course, your wrists don’t exist by themselves, floating in midair — and anything you do to support your overall bone and body health will certainly help your wrists too. So in addition to wrist-strengthening exercises, you can also do full-body workouts to strengthen your muscles and bones as well as focus on getting the full suite of bone-building nutrients and alkaline diet that support better bones and a better body.
Your wrists are the first line of defense against a fall, so why not give them a helping hand?
A few months ago, I spoke with Rick Berman, a certified personal trainer and owner of Studio 2020 Fitness. Rick uses a weight training technique that was originally researched for building bone — a slow-motion, high-intensity training program. While this strength training program might not suit everyone, I like it because you can see benefits working out only once or twice a week for 15 to 20 minutes!
If that sounds too good to be true, for once, it’s not — because this workout is not light duty. The whole point, Rick tells me, is that you have to work the muscles to great intensity in order to stimulate the muscle cells to build more muscle (which, as you know if you’ve read my blog, goes hand-in-hand with building bone. That means working the muscles to the point of complete fatigue — that “just can’t do even one more rep” point. This is accomplished by slowing the workout down considerably so that you aren’t using momentum to provide energy for the next rep; it forces your muscles to provide all the force needed to raise the weight. Getting to complete fatigue doesn’t actually take long, when you’re doing that much more work with slow movements (and that’s why the workouts are fairly short).
This program takes advantage of the body’s ability to adapt to the stresses we place on it — the more work we do, the more the muscles and cardiovascular system adjust to meet those strains. And it doesn’t matter how young or old you are: Rick says that “a number of my clients are 60, 70 years old — I have some in their 80s — and I see people that come in the door that can barely lift, sometimes, 20, or 30, or 40 pounds. I’ve had clients that have started at 20 pounds, and within … maybe 8 weeks, they’re doing 40 or 60 pounds. We see very rapid increases in muscular strength.”
It should be no surprise that this method is good for developing bone as well as muscle. As Rick pointed out, the original exercise protocol was developed for an osteoporosis study some 33 years ago at the University of Florida Hospital. The slow speed was initially used because of fears that the research subjects — women 60 and older with osteoporosis — might injure themselves, but the serendipitous finding was that this slower training safely created more muscle mass, even with less-frequent workouts!
For more, watch my full discussion with Rick Berman. You will learn a lot!
Important PS: Always check with your doctor before starting any new form of exercise. There is no “one size fits” all strength training program and this intense slow-motion workout is not for everyone. If you’re new to weight training, I encourage you to work with a professional trainer who can teach you correct technique to avoid injuries and help you get the most out of your workouts. Best would be to find a trainer like Rick who specializes on slow-motion, high intensity training if you chose to give this system a try.
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Miranda Esmonde-White, founder of the world renowned Classical Stretch Exercise Program.
It is always a delight to be in the company of someone who radiates so much warmth and energy — but I was also eager to ask her a question: I had been told by my physical therapist that the muscles in my right hip were weaker than my left, and I was using one of Miranda’s exercises to strengthen my right hip. The movement involved a series of leg lifts, so I showed her what I was doing and asked her if I was performing them correctly.
Her reply was a gentle but firm rebuke: the most effective approach to building any single muscle group is a whole-body approach.
All our muscles are interwoven in a series of elegant chains, all interconnected. Thus, she explained, the strengthening of any particular muscle group should begin with lengthening and strengthening the total body muscular system. In fact, this is what Miranda teaches us to do in each of her 20-minute exercise DVD segments — strengthen and lengthen all the muscle groups.
Only after this whole-body work-out should I go on to focus on my right hip muscle group, if needed.
My response to her pointing out the error of my ways initially was embarrassment — because I immediately recognized my flawed thinking as something I’ve railed against when it comes to bone health!
I’ve always argued that the health of the skeletal system is dependent on the health of the entire body and vice versa. You cannot successfully nourish and promote the health of one single bone, nor can you expect excellent results if you deal with just one factor that is causing bone loss and don’t address the others.
I’m a big believer that any step you take to improve your health, no matter how minor it may seem, can have profound effects on all the body’s interconnected systems.
Case in point: a recent study on interval training found that exercising a few times week for 10 minutes — with just 60 seconds of maximal effort per session — was enough to boost insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and skeletal muscle strength.
In the study, the researchers took an interval training regimen developed some years ago that used 20 to 30 minutes of cycling per session and pared it down to a 10-minute program to see if the benefits could be obtained with even less time commitment. Over the course of 12 weeks, previously sedentary men engaged in interval training 3 times per week for 10 minutes per session. Their workouts consisted of:
2 minutes of low-intensity cycling followed by a maximum-effort burst lasting 20 seconds (performed 3 times)
A 3-minute cool-down to end the session.
Meanwhile, a continuous training group did a 2-minute warm up, followed by 45 minutes of cycling at 70% max heart rate, then a 3-minute cool down.
Just 60 seconds is all it takes
The astonishing conclusion was that the sprint interval training regimen — a total time commitment of 30 minutes per week, with just 60 seconds of maximal effort per session — was as effective as 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity continuous training. And more amazing is that benefits were seen across the board — increasing insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content. (I should note here that although this particular study was done with men, other research suggests interval training has a similar effect among women.)
This is an absolutely incredible finding! It reinforces the idea that even a small commitment of time and effort and can have big benefits. So go all out for a minute to improve your bone health — and total health — this year!
When I talk to some of my clients about exercise, I know a lot of them aren’t enthusiastic, thinking I’m going to tell them they need to spend hours lifting heavy weights and sweating in a gym. After all, everyone knows it’s weight-bearing exercise — and lots of it — that builds bone and lowers the risk of fractures, right?
Surprise! Not necessarily. Two new studies show that even small amounts of low-impact exercise have a positive effect on fracture risk.
Twenty minutes of walking does the trick
The first study (Stattin et al. 2017) followed more than 65,000 Swedish men and women for 17 years and found that participants who walked or bicycled daily for even short periods of time had a lower fracture rate compared with those who did not. Regardless of sex or age, even relatively sedentary people could lower their fracture risk by exercising just a little bit every day. As long as they got at least an hour of exercise per week, these otherwise inactive people had a 13% lower rate of hip fractures and a 6% lower rate of any fracture compared to people who did none at all.
It’s worth emphasizing that the findings held true whether you looked at any fracture (including common, relatively mild fractures like vertebral or wrist fractures) or the more serious and life-changing hip fractures that everyone fears.
Of course, the more exercise they got, the better the results: those with 20 minutes of walking or cycling every day, which translates to about 2 hours per week — had a 23% lower rate of hip fracture and a 13% lower rate of any fracture. That’s a pretty good return for not a lot of effort — just imagine what you get when you do even more!
Light loads do more than you think
The second study (Hamaguchi et al. 2017) had a small group of 7 postmenopausal women undergo six weeks of training wearing a weighted vest with 380-760 g (roughly from 1.75 pounds) of added weight. With just two workout sessions per week, the participants saw improvements in pelvis BMD (1.6%) and knee extensor strength (15.5%) — which is helpful in maintaining balance and preventing falls. Workouts consisted of squats, front lunges, side lunges, calf raises and toe raises (eight sets of three repetitions with a 15-second rest between each set).
A little bit goes a long way
I know that it can be hard to start exercising if you’re not accustomed to it, and especially if you’re recovering from a muscle strain or a fracture, the get-up-and-go impulse just isn’t there. But you don’t have to do a lot to get benefit from it! Both of these studies show that a little goes a long way.
Here’s good news for those of us who avoid rigorous high load strength training – either due to risk of injury or personal preference. New research shows powerful bone-building benefits can also be obtained with low-load, high-repetition strength training.
To determine this, researchers compared the results of a 24 week strength training program for two groups – one using the Body Pump Program,™ a full body, low-load, high-repetition resistance training program using weights with the other group using a combination of Pilates and yoga exercises without weights.
At the end of the 24 weeks period those doing the low-load, high-repetition strength training increased their bone density (BMD) significantly, while those doing the core strengthening program didn’t increase bone density.
Gains in bone density in the low-load, high-repetition group
4% gain in arm BMD
8% gain in leg BMD
6% gain in pelvis BMD
4% gain in spinal BMD
As for gains in muscle strength, both groups experienced improvements in body mass composition and muscular strength, but the gains were greater in the low-load, high-repetition strength training group.
My take on the study results
Personally, I find a low-load, high-repetition system works well for me. And this approach fit right into the strength training program I was already doing at my local Y.
This well-designed study clearly shows that you can build bone density with a gentler form of strength training, but you must commit yourself to do 3 hours strength training per week and find time for 3 hours of aerobic exercise each week also. I know that this may sound like a lot, but remember, if you don’t change things up to keep challenging your bones and muscles, you won’t get results! Here are some of my exercises for osteoporosis to help you get started.
More details about the study’s strength training program
All sessions were one hour
First, participants did a three-week preparation program learning the proper form of each exercise.
During the first 12 weeks of the full study participants did 2 strength training sessions per week and 3 bicycling aerobic sessions per week.
During the second 12 weeks period there were 3 strength training sessions and 3 by bicycling sessions per week.
Each session consisted of 8 loading exercises done with a load of only 20% of the individual’s 1 repetition maximum. (Traditional high-load strength training uses weights of 70-85% an individual’s 1 repetition maximum with only 6-12reps per set).
Each of the low load exercises was done for 100 reps, thus the entire class involved some 800 repetitions with a low-weight load.
Participants were asked to increase the weights in any particular exercise if the exercise did not feel hard enough by the end of the 4 to 5 minutes of repetitions.
8 exercises were done each session including squats, dead lifts, chest press, triceps variation, bicep curl, lunges, pushups and clean and press.
For further specifics on this type of low-load, high-repetition strength training program see the BODYPUMP Program™ info.
No matter how we may try to eat “clean,” our food, water, and environment bring us a serious load of toxic metals — lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium.
Lead and cadmium, for example, are “tucked away” in the skeleton to limit damage to the rest of the body — but bone cells are damaged during storage. Worse, during periods of high bone breakdown, such as menopause, in pregnancy and lactation, or excessive weight loss, they are freed up to injure other body systems.
That’s why it’s so critical to do what you can to reduce toxic metals in your body. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Get enough alkalizing nutrients
Chronic low-grade metabolic acidosis makes toxic metals more toxic. Alkalizing nutrients help reduce uptake and enhance excretion of toxic metals. Many of the best detoxification allies are also key bone-building nutrients:
Calcium can help limit your absorption of both cadmium and lead. Maintain a calcium intake of 1200 mg a day between diet and supplementation if necessary —more if pregnant or lactating.
Zinc is an essential mineral rich in detoxification compounds called “metallothioneins.” Most folks should get at least 15 to 30 mg zinc daily.
Magnesium deficiency encourages uptake of toxic minerals. Strive for 500–800 mg magnesium a day.
Vitamin C is important for successful detoxification and binding of the average daily toxic metal exposure. Take at least 2000 mg of ascorbate – the form used in the body (vitamin C) daily.
2. Limit exposure
You can’t avoid toxic metals altogether, but you can drink pure spring or filtered water, breathe clean air, and avoid products contaminated by heavy metals (such as some seafood, dental “silver” amalgams) to limit exposure.
3. Focus on the “toxic metal–buster foods”
Consume “super foods” high in available sulfur, including garlic, onions, ginger, eggs, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Such foods enhance production of glutathione, a key antioxidant. Also, high fiber foods help the body bind and excrete toxic metals. Set a goal to consume 30 g of fiber a day.
4. Remember the beneficial bacteria
Microbes (probiotics) in the gut play important roles in protecting you from toxic metal absorption. For example, Lactobacillus microbes can sequester arsenic, lead, and cadmium from the environment. Eat fermented foods and take probiotics daily.
5. Water, air, exercise
Drink several glasses of pure water a day, relax, and breathe deeply several times a day, and exercise often to a light sweat.
As you can see, there’s a lot you can do – right now – to start limiting the effects of toxins on your bone!
Exercise Evolution is our exciting new affordable subscription program that we offer on Patreon.com. This program will include monthly videos, Dr. Brown’s learning library, a community sharing page, monthly exercise plans to build bone, access to the Better Bones diet, an exercise tracking portal, and more! This program is not only accessible, but safe. Our goal is to create a community full of like-minded individuals that support one another and are ready to get out there and get healthy!
Anything that builds muscle is going to help build bone, especially if you are taking the correct nutrients. Dr. Brown wants to reinforce the idea that everyone is unique and the types of exercises that work vary from person to person. Studies have shown though that strength training and loading bone with weight is very effective. However, we understand at the Center for Better Bones that strength training is not for everyone. Dr. Brown believes that yoga, tai chi, and pilates can be just as effective as strength training in the long run.
Because we, at the Center for Better Bones understand the need for a safe and healthy exercise regimen and want to share these exercises with you, we have created the Better Bones Exercise Evolution Program. Through this program you can learn the many ways to make exercising with osteoporosis safe. This includes yoga and learning about proper posturing, alignment, body awareness, and skeletal structure as you exercise. We are here to help you find which exercises can be most beneficial for you. It has been proven that yoga as well as other exercises are safe and important, but Dr. Brown and Gina Galli always recommend that you consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Listen to Dr. Brown and Gina Galli bring this topic to light. If you want to learn more about the Better Bones Exercise Evolution Program check out our Introductory Video Series! And read this blog to learn more about the Mayo Clinic Study.
Exercise builds bone by “loading” the bone, that is, putting extra force on the bone and letting it know that it needs to get stronger. When you put weight on your body whether it be by participating in yoga, lifting weights, walking, jogging, or any other weight bearing exercise, you send a signal through your bone that stimulates the osteoblasts to take up more minerals and build more bone tissue. For more information on bone health and exercise read our article Exercise and Bone Health. If you want to try a new way to load your bones, get our Weight Belt for Osteoporosis with Flex Metal Weights!
Listen to Dr. Brown go into great depth on this topic and reveal what activities are excellent for building bone!
Discouraged by your amount of bone improvement? Do not worry! We at the Center for Better Bones recommend looking at each step in the programs we offer diligently. Every individual has specific needs or certain areas that require increased attention. So, look at every step and ask yourself if it needs to be more tailored to your individual needs. For example, the client that asked this question was requested to specifically increase the exercise on her lower body to look for better results.
Listen to Dr. Brown for more specifics on this case! For more information on exercises and programs such as the “The Better Bones Exercise Evolution” read more articles on the Better Bones blog!
The Center for Better Bones and the Better Bones Foundation Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD 605 Franklin Park Drive East Syracuse, NY 13057
Weekly wisdom from the woman who builds better bones
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Susan Brown PhD nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.