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Osteoporosis 101 - Strength Train for Bone Health

by Gayle Silver, Co-Owner

Do you know if you have Osteoporosis?

Unfortunately, most people don’t know until a fracture occurs. According to the National Institute on Aging, Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones to the point where they become porous and break easily. It is most often diagnosed through testing of the bones in the hip, spine, and wrist. Osteoporosis is called a “silent disease” because you may not notice any changes until a bone breaks but they may have been losing strength for many years. By your thirties, new bone growth begins slowing, so prevention is important to reduce bone loss as you age. Osteopenia, which is when the bones are first showing signs of weakening, is often diagnosed first and should be a warning sign to make the important life changes to prevent it from becoming Osteoporosis.

Image: DEXA Scan showing variability in body composition distribution.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, every woman at age 65 should have a bone density test called a DEXA scan. However, if you have clinical risk factors for bone loss such as low body weight, smoking, high alcohol consumption, taking certain medications (such as long-term steroids and cancer medication), family history, or a previous fracture, testing should begin at menopause. Many women enter menopause with low bone mass already and there’s a subset of women that can lose up to 5 percent of their bone mass every year. Men are also at risk for Osteoporosis but it tends to show up later in life. The same lifestyle changes are recommended for men and women because by age 70 both sexes can begin losing bone density at the same rate.

Above: Trainer Kevin and his pickleball loving small group training class for osteoporosis cheesing after class!

Fortunately, there are things you can do to slow down the progression of Osteoporosis and some evidence that it can be reversed. There are things you should do at any age to prevent weakened bones. Eating foods that are rich in calcium (1200 mg/day) and vitamin D (800-1000mg/day), regular weight-bearing exercise, such as weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis, plyometrics, and dancing all improve bone density. In addition, balance training can help prevent falls which is the cause of many bone breaks. Lifting heavier weights (80% of your one rep max) and powerlifting have been shown in studies to improve bone destiny most effectively, plus the increase in muscle mass further protects your bones. Some doctors will also prescribe medications to promote bone growth.

Before starting an exercise program as you age, it is important to know how advanced your bone loss is. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with more advanced stages should avoid high impact exercise, twisting, and forward flexion. After diagnosis, working with a physical therapist or personal trainer will help initiate the correct exercise program, as well as make sure you are using proper form and weight lifting techniques. If you are new to exercising, it is especially important to get a program that is right for you with steady progression to improve strength while also preventing injury.

Periodic screenings are recommended to monitor bone loss. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, for more advanced cases, screenings every 1-2 years are recommended but can be done every 3-5 years in less severe cases. Your doctor will recommend screenings based on your results. It is important to not lose hope if you do get diagnosed with Osteopenia or Osteoporosis as there are things you can do to slow and sometimes reverse bone loss. Instead, it is advised to talk to your doctor, learn as much as you can, and take action to slow the progression through proper life changes such as diet and exercise.

Above: Trainer Kevin coaching Jean through her barbell back squat - a great exercise to build bone density in the spine and hips!

References & Resources:

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