I just learned from my doctor that calcium and magnesium compete with one another for the same receptors in the body. I looked this up online and found several articles explaining this. Most people need both, especially for bone health. So it's best to take calcium at one time of day and magnesium at another time. And definitely don't buy the Cal-Mag supplements with both in the same capsule! Our health food store has half a shelf of Cal-Mag supplements.
My latest DEXA results showed a 2% decrease in my spinal bone density over the past two years, which dipped back into the osteoporosis range. Over the past 16 months I gave up squats and deadlifts per the orthopedist's direction and took up rowing on a Concept II machine at our gym. I rowed about 4,000 meters twice a week. This was ineffective in protecting or building bone density in my spine. In contrast, the previous DEXA in 2020 showed a 1.6% INCREASE in spinal bone density after 1 year of barbell squats and deadlifts, where I increased the weight up to about 80 lbs. for squats and 100 lbs. for deadlifts.
For about a year now, I have had no pain in my hip, so I'm going back to squats and deadlifts. I am seeking a trainer to help me continue with this weight training with minimal impact to my hip arthritis. I will have another DEXA in 1 year instead of 2 years to help monitor progress. I am doing all I can to avoid bisphosphonate medication.
This past summer, just as I was continuing to add weight to my squats and deadlifts, a nagging pain alerted me that something might be up with my joints or muscles. An x-ray revealed mild arthritis of the hip, and the doctor advised me not to do squats and deadlifts or any exercise with impact or heavy weights. But that's what is needed to build and protect bone strength in the spine and hips!
The one low-impact exercise that has been shown to build bone strength in the back is rowing. This article states that rowing, weight training and running all exert pressure on the bones. This article also makes the case for rowing as an effective exercise to prevent osteoporosis. So I am going to the gym, and so far am up to rowing 4,000 meters in about 25 minutes. This testimony from a woman who increased her bone density by rowing is encouraging. She achieved her gains by rowing 8,000 meters 3-4 times a week, along with yoga and Pilates.
I'd love to hear from anyone else who has had success with rowing.
I have good news from my latest DEXA: a 1.6% gain in bone density in my spine. So over the past two years, the reading went from osteoporosis back to osteopenia. I credit this gain to a routine of squats and deadlifts in the gym twice a week, except for about 4 months in 2020, when gyms were closed due to COVID-19.
This positive result is especially welcome for me. Two years ago, in December 2018, my DEXA showed a 5% loss in my spine, putting me into the osteoporosis category for the first time. This was after faithfully performing the Biodensity exercises that I have written about previously. I was shocked. My doctor was, too, I even had a second DEXA a week after the first to check the result and it showed the same numbers (demonstrating to me that DEXAs are reliable in most cases).
This failure of the Biodensity exercises led me to re-evaluate my bone-building strategy. Although Biodensity helped me in the past with a 1.5% gain in spinal bone density and a 7% gain in hip bone density the first couple of years, after that, it lost its effectiveness for me. I decided to add squats and deadlifts in February 2019 and then in fall 2019 discontinued my weekly Biodensity exercises at the chiropractor's office and have not been back since.
Here are some take-aways from my experience:
This calcium supplement has calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K2, and enzymes - all of which I take in separate supplements at the moment. It also has a fruit and vegetable blend. I thought it was worth a try so I bought it recently.
There's a study comparing a similar product (Algaecal) to calcium citrate in its effects on fetal osteoblast cells. They found that the osteoblast cells treated with calcium from algae showed more calcium deposition than those treated with calcium citrate.
At the very least, this product should provide a similar amount of calcium but with all of the complimentary minerals/vitamins that help its absorption.
I'm excited to report that one of the readers of this blog with whom I've corresponded over the past year has received great DEXA results after practicing the 12-minute daily yoga routine from Dr. Fishman (previously posted here) 5-6 days a week and resuming barbell weight training. She is in her 60s and after one year of practicing this yoga routine and adding weight training she gained 3% in her spine, moving out of osteoporosis. She had gains in her hip, also.
It's not just any exercise that helps, but these specific yoga poses and weight lifting that targets the spine. I'm very encouraged and wanted to pass this on to all of you.
I've been able to continue going to the gym twice a week (mostly) and focusing just on squats and dead lifts. Both the squat bar (on the rack, which is not shown here) and the hex bar, which I use for deadlifts (see photo), weigh 45 lbs. So I started with free weights to work up to 45 lbs. Then I gradually added weight to the bars, 5 lbs. at a time. A big milestone for me was 95 lbs. because then I could load just 2 25-lb. weights on the bar.
Today I reached 100 lbs in both exercises!
Note: I am still also doing the purely isometric exercises on the Biodensity machine about every other week. I think the barbell training is helping with that.
Photo by Fabiano Advertising via Pixabay
I'm not quite this far along yet, but making progress! I am using the squat rack at our fitness center and can lift 85 lbs., 2 sets of 8 reps. It feels heavy, but good. I'm also doing deadlifts using a hex bar, which has handles that help me keep proper form. I'm up to 85 lbs. deadlifting as well. My trainer helped me focus on a few points of my form. As I progress toward heavier weights, I plan to sign up for another series of personal training, and maybe add a bench press to my routine. In addition to working on bone density in my spine, these exercises increase my overall strength and I feel really good afterwards.
I'd encourage anyone who is physically able to try barbell lifting.
It seems risky and counter-intuitive for someone with osteoporosis in the lumbar spine to start a weight lifting program with barbells. However, with a knowledgeable trainer, a slow, careful increase of weight and insistence on correct form, it not only is safe, but may be one of the most effective ways to reverse osteoporosis. I've watched some videos and read testimonies of women in their 60s and even 90s who can start weight training and reap great results for bone density and overall health and mobility. There's a method and associated group of gyms called Starting Strength that has posted many resources online. Learn more about it here and watch the video of 91-year-old Virginia Gustafson explaining how strength training has improved her life. Another video talks directly about how barbell training helped a woman named Patricia to gain 7% of bone density in her spine, reversing her diagnosis of osteoporosis.
So I have started training at my local gym with a trainer, focusing on squats and dead lifts. It's already made a difference in muscle tone and I've progressed in how much weight I can lift.
A friend just sent me a link to an article by a yoga teacher about specific ways to practice yoga to strengthen the spine. In the article, the teacher, Lillah Schwartz, gives tips on which postures are most beneficial to strengthening and lengthening the spine and which types of movements to avoid. She cites the work by Dr. Fishman, whose video I posted in an earlier blog. After having lost bone density in her spine, the author tells how she regained it by practicing these weight-bearing yoga poses.