Weighted Vests May Pull Their Weight in Protecting Menopausal Women's Bone Health

Patient Expert

Want to feel the weight of the world on your back? Well, perhaps not that much, but carrying a portion of your weight around while exercising may help protect your bones as you go through the menopausal transition.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal made me wonder about weighted vests as a way to build bone strength. And bone strength is a key issue for every menopausal woman since approximately 50 percent of women over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.

That story pointed to several small studies that have found that using a weighted vest can increase bone-mineral density in older women. In addition, these vests may improve the wearer's balance. For instance, the story pointed to a six-week study of 36 women who had gone through menopause who used the vests while walking on a treadmill three times weekly. They showed improved balance compared with other participants who didn't wear a vest.

I found another study through PubMed.gov that involved 18 postmenopausal women who were on average 64 years of age when the study started. Nine of this group used a weighted vest while doing jumping exercises three times a week for 32 weeks of the year over a five-year period. Nine of The other nine were active but did not participate in the same exercise program. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the use of the weighted vest plus jumping exercises maintained the group's bone mineral density by preventing significant bone loss.

The Wall Street Journal points out that studies have identified benefits when women wear vests that contain weights that are equal to between 4 percent and 10 percent of their individual body weight. Furthermore, the best should fit snugly in order to not throw a woman's balance off while exercising. However, experts believe that a weight vest doesn't help a woman who is significantly overweight since her own excess pounds provide a workout for bones. A weighted vest also may cause pre-existing back or knee injuries to return so you should consult a medical professional prior to using one if you have any of these issues.

So what else can you do? Here are some recommendations, courtesy of The North American Menopause Society and the Cleveland Clinic:

Focus on your posture

"No amount of exercise will undo 16 hours of bad posture a day," she warns. Therefore, it's important to make sure you keep good posture while sitting and standing. That means trying to be as tall as possible, engaging the core muscles by pulling your stomach in toward your spine, lowering the shoulders and drawing the shoulder blades together.

Do lots of different kinds of exercises

Your regimen should include weight-bearing, strength-training and balance exercises, which can improve bone health and reduce your risk of a fall. Exercise for 45-60 minutes a week to get the bone-health benefits.

Consume lots of calcium

You should aim for 1,500 mg of calcium daily if you're over the age of 50. If you're under 50, 1,200 mg daily will work. Great sources of calcium include low-fat milk and dairy products, seafood, dark green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified orange juice and breads made with calcium-fortified flour. Check with your doctor if you think you need to take a supplement.

Get your vitamin D

This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium. Exposure to the sun or about 20 minutes daily will allow your body to make enough vitamin D. This vitamin also can be consumed through eating eggs, fatty fish, cereal and milk fortified with vitamin D, and supplements. If you're over the age of 50, aim for at least 1,000-2,000 IU of this vitamin.

Avoid certain medications

Steroids, anti-seizure medications, blood thinners and thyroid medications can increase the rate of bone loss if you don't use them as directed.

Make lifestyle changes

Smoking causes the body to make less estrogen, thus harming the bones. Alcohol consumption also can damage bones and increase the risk of falling.

Consider estrogen therapy

Talk to your doctor about this therapy since it carries risks. Normally it is only recommended for women who have a high risk for osteoporosis and also have menopausal symptoms.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Burdette, L. M. (nd). Bone health: Exercise is a key component. The North American Menopause Society.

Cleveland Clinic. (2011). Menopause and osteoporosis.

Johannes, L. (2013). Extra load on your back to help build bones. The Wall Street Journal.

Snow, C. M., et al. (2000). Long-term exercise using weighted vests prevents hip bone loss in postmenopausal women. PubMed.gov.