Osteoporosis is often called the "silent disease," because most of the time, bone loss occurs without any symptoms at all. But when osteoporosis becomes severe, it can lead to fractures and a condition called kyphosis. Kyphosis is spinal compression, sometimes described as the "dowager's hump." Both fractures and kyphosis can be very painful. This pain is usually more severe than the typical "aches and pains" many people feel as they get older.
In one study, postmenopausal women who participated in a strength training
program for a year saw significant increases in their bone density in the spine
and hips, areas affected most by osteoporosis in older women.
Maintaining strong muscles through weight training helps to keep up your
balance and coordination -- a critical element in preventing falls, which can
lead to osteoporosis-related fractures.
"We lose so much muscle as we age that by the time we're 70, we only
have about 50% to 55% of our muscle mass left," says Beatrice Edwards, MD,
MPH, associate professor of medicine and director of the Bone Health and
Osteoporosis Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
"That explains why we feel weak and tired as we age, and we can prevent
some of that with weight training."
Getting Started on Weight Training for Osteoporosis
How should you start weight training for osteoporosis? Focus on the back and
the hip, says Don Lein, MS, PT, a physical therapist at the University of
Alabama-Birmingham's Spain Rehabilitation Center and its Osteoporosis
Prevention and Treatment Clinic. Those are the areas most damaged by bone loss,
and the areas most at risk from osteoporosis-related fractures.
"Good exercises include hip extension, hip abduction and adduction, and
hip flexion -- anything that works around the hip," he says. "Backward
bending is also good."
Here's one particularly good exercise:
Sit on a bench or chair with 5-pound weights strapped to each ankle.
Then "march" in place, lifting the knees alternately.
"You're working the hip flexor muscles, which are attached to both the
back and hip, which leads to improved bone and muscle mass in both areas,"
Here are seven other important weight training tips:
Work under the supervision of a qualified, certified personal trainer,
especially at first and particularly if you have any medical issues.
Do strength training two to three times a week, with at least one day of
rest between each session (especially if you're working the same muscles at
Do one exercise for each major muscle group, for a total of eight to 12
different exercises. Do one or two sets of eight to 10 repetitions for each
Lift the weight slowly; lift to a count of four and lower to a count of
four, says Lein. "This decreases the likelihood of injury while helping to
recruit the muscle better."
Don't use other muscles to compensate. You should only be moving the muscle
you're supposed to be moving!
Tighten abdominal muscles to help protect your spine.
Periodically consult with a trainer about increasing the amount of weight
you lift as you become stronger.