When it comes to countering the effects of osteoporosis, there’s one tool that literally does a lot of heavy lifting. It’s a common barbell because, contrary to what you might think, putting weight on weakening bones is actually a good thing.
“Weight training, more than any other exercise, can help strengthen your muscles and bones, improve your balance, maintain and improve posture, reduce pain and prevent osteoporosis-related fractures,” says Tommy Parrish, MS, ACSM-CCEP, director of the Covenant LifeStyle Centre in Lubbock. “And as you become stronger, the aches and pains associated with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis often begin to subside. In fact, many patients report that over time, they feel considerably better and stronger once they put a few weights into their daily routine.”
Why does weightlifting work? Bone mass decreases as we age, so lifting weights can help strengthen the bones and restore mass. You actually want your bones to weigh more because heavier bones are not subject to the brittleness and fractures associated with osteoporosis.
Check out our infographic for more tips on keeping your bones healthy and strong.
One of the biggest issues is convincing skeptical patients to give pumping iron a try. It’s not uncommon for those in their 70s and 80s to think that they should rest their bones and muscles, rather than give them a workout.
For many, the answer is to start with light weights –1 or 2 pounds –and gradually work up to a more challenging workout. For some, a few leg lifts with small weights is exactly what’s needed to prevent pain and keep active.
Those who want to explore more rigorous routines need to remember there are proper methods for lifting weights. For starters, always warm up the muscles with stretching exercises. Hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat several times. Take it slowly, as there’s no contest for who can warm up the fastest. Also, keep these pointers in mind:
- Start with weights with which you can comfortably do three sets of 10 repetitions. When the repetitions become too easy, move up to a slightly heavier weight.
- Lift weights with slow, even motions. Bouncing and jerking can damage cartilage.
- Try to go through a range of motion. If one particular movement causes too much pain, rely on movements that are more comfortable. Over time, you can push yourself to get the full movement.
- Osteoporosis sufferers should focus on exercises to strengthen the back and hips, since these are the areas most damaged by bone loss and at most risk for fractures.
- If you find yourself straining, don't use other muscles to compensate. You should only be moving the muscles you're supposed to be moving with each exercise.
- Listen to your body. If you start pushing yourself too hard, your body will let you know. Stop your current exercise program if you notice unusual or lasting fatigue, increased weakness, decreased flexibility, and increased swelling, or pain that persists for more than an hour after exercising.
If weightlifting really isn’t appealing to you, there are other high-impact weight-bearing exercises to try, such as dancing, high-impact aerobics, jump roping and tennis. Remember, there is no single exercise routine that works for everyone with osteoporosis. Work with a physical therapist or trainer to develop a personalized plan. You can find trainers and experts at many of our hospitals, including the Covenant LifeStyle Centre in Lubbock, which offers a comprehensive medical fitness center and more, with experts skilled in cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, orthopedic rehabilitation, and counseling services in nutrition and nicotine cessation.
With any exercise program, just getting started is always the most difficult.
“The key is not to go into these activities thinking you are going to win a Mr. Universe contest,” says Parrish. “You’re trying to regain strength and flexibility – and that means slowly and mindfully applying basic weightlifting techniques that will help you get healthier and feel better.”
Exercise provides crucial health benefits for older adults. Ask your doctor or find a quality physician to learn more about how to get fit in midlife.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.