This is osteoporosis month! If you’re concerned with bone health, these exercises will help you.
What Is Osteoporosis?
May is Osteoporosis Awareness Month in the US. If you’ve had a bone density test, you know if you’re a fracture risk. They check your lumbar spine (lower back), your femurs (thigh bones), and sometimes your wrists.
Osteoporosis means “porous bones.” If you have osteoporosis, your bones are around 25% weaker. They have more space and less structure in them and are at greater risk of breaking. If you have osteopenia, you have less bone loss.
There are things you can do to help strengthen your bones, exercise being the best thing, with the least side effects.
Isn’t Osteoporosis A Natural Part of Aging?
Yes, and no. We reach maximum bone density in our 30s. After that, bone strength declines. If you experienced early menopause, you’ll see bone density loss earlier and faster.
There are many lifestyle changes you can make that help maintain bone density. Why do I know this? Because I had a total abdominal hysterectomy due to endometriosis at age 30.
At 50, my bone density was borderline osteopenia. Today, at 55, my bone density has improved. The only things I added were targeted exercise and eating a more balanced diet with plenty of protein.
What Exercise Is Best?
Let’s start with what NOT to do. Exercises that include a lot of forward flexions, or rounding of your spine, can cause thoracic crush fractures, which causes a “humpback.” You also want to avoid activities where you can easily fall (skiing, skating, walking large dogs) and break something. Fractures heal much slower when your bones are already weak.
The best position is weight bearing on your feel and/or hands, with a straight spine. There are a few places where it’s safe to rotate your spine and round your spine (cat/cow on all fours being one of them), but generally a long, straight torso and lifted spine are best.
Best Exercises for Bone Strength
Do these exercises two to three times a week to start, and then progress to every other day. Add in a good walk, and you’ll be on your way to stronger bones!
Squats are just sitting and standing, which is a good skill to have and maintain. Start by sitting on a (non-rolling) chair.
Perch 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 your hips, with your legs slightly turned out. Reach your arms forward at shoulder height to assist balance.
Sit back down, keeping a straight spine and your weight in your heels. Stand back up. Note that you have to sit your hips back, not straight down – this is why starting with a chair is helpful.
Just touch the seat and come on up. Keep chest lifted, eyes forward, and abs in and up.
Keep breathing – don’t hold your breath. Repeat five to ten times.
When this gets easy, use a lower seat, or remove the chair. You can also hold a weight, a five-pound bag of something, or a few heavy books.
Many of my clients have hurt themselves when they have to pick something up from the floor. Deadlifts teach us to lift things up and put them down safely.
Stand like you do for your squat and hold something in your hands (a book will do), with your arms straight and hanging in front of you.
Bend your knees as much as you need to hinge your torso forward from your hips, keeping your chest open and back straight. Place the object down for a second, and then pick it back up, hinging your torso up and straightening your knees.
Abs up and in, spine straight and strong.
Make sure you’re not holding your breath. Repeat five to ten times.
Now we’re working on balance. This helps climbing stairs, ladders, larger Ubers, and anywhere we need to step up or down.
Face a chair, step stool, or bench. Have your feet under hips, chest up, spine straight, abs in and up. Step one foot up onto the seat. Put it down. Continue with this leg five to six times. Then do the other leg (one leg will be easier). And then do one set alternating legs.
When that gets easy, step up, lean onto that front foot, and see if you can lift your back heel.
Then try a controlled lift of the whole back foot a few inches, keeping the rest of your body situated.
Again, keep breathing!
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, with 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 muscles. Hold for a few seconds, and lower your hips down, torso straight.
No breath-holding. Repeat five to eight times.
Add alternating knee lifts, three or four on each side.
These teach us how to push ourselves up, stop ourselves from falling, and push things away from us – all good skills.
Start standing, facing a wall, with hands-on the wall in front of shoulders, feet 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. Elbows in a comfortable position. Repeat five to eight times.
Then, when that’s easier, come to a chair or bench, and do the same thing (it will be much harder). Same reps.
Then, on the floor on knees.
And, finally, in a plank.
Use fists or push-up handles if your wrists hurt. And breathe!
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