Many of us suffer from deteriorating bone mass, usually due to age, prescription drugs, heredity, or a combination of all three. For some of us, this deterioration is severe enough to be called osteoporosis; for others, it means an osteopenia diagnosis, or simply slowly falling T-scores. We’re advised that jogging, running, jumping, and weight-bearing exercise will all combat bone loss. But what if your body simply isn’t up to that type of active exercise?
Sure, you used to jog – just about every day. You played softball in high school, rec. league soccer as a 20-something, and loved to dance – the faster, the better.
But that was awhile ago now, wasn’t it? Like, 20, 30, even 40 or more years ago. Your body has been in gradual (and natural) decline. Until Ponce de Leon rediscovers the Fountain of Youth, we’re all destined to age – gracefully and healthily, if we’re lucky.
So it’s sometimes hard to figure out what to do when everything you read about bone loss tells you the antidote is vigorous exercise: not walking; not even swimming or biking, but jarring, high-impact activity, something that gives both bone and muscle a good shaking up.
Think competitive basketball.
Not. Even if I had the skill to not fall flat on my face while running down the court, I’d be out of breath even before the first basket was scored (probably not by me).
Competitive physical sports are definitely in my past.
So, how about weight-bearing exercise? I do better there. I lift weights three times a week at my local gym. It makes me feel good (when I’m done); doesn’t hurt; and, since I use machines, doesn’t challenge my balance like running does.
Why is weight-bearing exercise good for you? Because in order to remain strong your bones need to be “challenged.” They need some controlled, beneficial stress: the stress of pressing hard against gravity, as in weight-lifting. Or the stress of being pounded against the floor, as in running.
So if you can’t run and jump, and don’t want to (or can’t) lift weights, what else is there?
Several studies have shown that plain old walking and climbing stairs can take the place of more vigorous activity. But for walking to make a significant difference in bone health, you need to add extra weight to your body. No, not by filling up on hot fudge sundaes; but by wearing a weighted vest.
Felicia Cosman, senior clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), noted that “bone responds to the magnitude of the force put on it.” (Johannes, 2013) In other words, the heavier the weight your skeleton supports, the stronger your bones will become via daily activities like walking.
Problem is, many with osteoporosis, particularly women, don’t weigh very much; being small-framed and thin is a chief risk factor for osteoporosis, and thus one of the hallmarks of its sufferers.