What Is Osteoporosis?
If you’re over 50 in the US, you have probably had, or are scheduled for, a DEXA scan. This non-invasive test checks your bone density – literally, the strength of your skeleton.
Osteoporosis comes from Greek, meaning “porous bones.” A diagnosis of osteoporosis means that your bones are around 25% weaker, and have more space in them. A diagnosis of osteopenia means that your bones are weaker, just not at the threshold for osteoporosis.
Either way, hearing the phrase “fracture risk” can be a bit disconcerting. Luckily, there are many things you can do to help strengthen your bones!
Is Osteoporosis Inevitable?
The answer is both yes and no! We reach our maximum bone density in our 30s, and after that, as estrogen declines, so does bone strength. If you experienced early menopause, this is an issue.
However, there are many lifestyle changes we can make that will help maintain bone density. I’m actually a great example. I had a total abdominal hysterectomy at age 30, without full HRT. At 50, my bone density was borderline osteopenia.
At 56, my bone density is better! I added more resistance training, using specific exercises, and started to track my macro-nutrients to make sure I was getting in all the protein I need. (In general, humans need to eat 50% carbs, 20% protein, and 30% fat.)
Are All Exercises Good?
No! Any exercises that include a lot of forward bending and rounding of your spine can cause a thoracic crush fracture, which leads to pain and the “humpback.” Activities, where you can easily fall (skiing, skating, walking large dogs), can cause fractures anywhere.
The best exercises are weight-bearing on your feet or hands, with a straight spine. There are a few places where it’s safe to rotate and round your spine (cat/cow on all fours being one of them), but generally a lifted, long, straight torso and spine is best.
Effective exercises work on life skills – sitting and standing, picking things up, walking, taking steps, and catching yourself if you fall.
This brings us to…
The Top 5 Exercises for Bone Strength
Do these exercises 2-3 times a week to start, and then progress to every other day. Combine with a good walk, and you’ll be good to go!
The Bridge is one of my favorite exercises and is very safe and stable. Start on your back, with arms by your sides and knees bent, with feet hip-bone width apart.
Open your collarbones, pressing into the back of your armpits, and put your weight into your heels.
Lift your hips up until you’re in a straight line from chest to knees. Just keep your abs pulling in and up, and use your butt. Hold for a few seconds, and lower your hips down, trying to keep your torso straight (hinge at hips).
Inhale up, exhale down. Repeat 5-8 times.
You can add knee lifts, Martin 3 or 4 times on each side.
The Push Up
Push-ups sound scary, but they really teach us how to push ourselves up, stop ourselves from falling, and push things away from us. It’s a good skill to have! This is how to progress:
Start standing, facing a wall, with your hands on the wall in front of your shoulders. Feet can be hip-width. Keep your body straight from head to heels as you bend your elbows and bring your chest towards the wall. Push away to start position. 5-8 times.
Then, when that’s easier, come to an incline (couch, chair), and try the same thing (it will be much harder). Same reps.
Then, on the floor on knees. Same reps.
And, finally, in a plank. Same reps.
Elbows at a 45-degree angle from your body is fine. Use fists or push-up handles if your wrists hurt. Inhale down, exhale up.
Squats teach proper sitting and standing, which is another crucial skill. I recommend starting squats in front of a non-moving chair.
Sit on the chair, perching at the front edge of the seat, straighten your spine, and stand up. Once you’re up, adjust your feet so they are slightly wider than hips, with legs slightly turned out. Reach arms forward at shoulder height, palms in or down.
Sit back down, keeping a straight spine and your weight in your heels. Stand back up. Note that you have to sit back – this is why starting with a chair is helpful.
Try not to rest in the sit, or lean back at all. Just touch the seat and come on up. Keep chest lifted, eyes forward, and abs in and up.
Inhale down, exhale up. 5-10x
When this gets easy, remove the chair. You can also add weight – holding a small pet, a weight, a 5# bag of something, or a few heavy books – the weight will help strengthen your bones faster!
Sometimes we have to pick something up, heavy or not, from the floor, and this is when women will often hurt themselves. The deadlift teaches us to lift things and put them down safely.
Stand like you do for your Squat, and hold something in your hands, with your arms straight and hanging.
Bend your knees a bit and hinge your torso forward from your hips, keeping your chest lifted and back straight. Place the object down for a second, and then pick it back up, hinge your torso up and straighten your knees.
Abs up and in, spine straight and strong, hips and legs working.
Inhale down, exhale up. 5-10x
The Step Up
This requires a bit more balance. We do still need to take stairs, climb ladders, make our way into larger Ubers, and even step up on a curb.
This is another exercise I teach in stages.
Start facing a non-moving chair or bench that you can stand on, feet under your hips. Chest up, spine straight, abs in and up. Step one for up onto the seat. Put it down. Continue with this leg 5-6 times. Then do the other leg (one leg will be easier). And then do one set alternating legs.
When that gets easy, step up, put weight onto that front foot, and see if you can lift your back heel.
Exhale up, inhale down. 5-6x each leg total
I teach a 30-minute live online class 2x per week using just these exercises. Learn more & register here.
Connect with Lynda on The Wellness Universe.
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