I'd encourage anyone who is physically able to try barbell lifting.
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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.
The other day I wondered whether to add crumbled goat cheese or shredded Parmesan to my salad: which has the most calcium? I was surprised to find out that 1 oz. of goat cheese has only 84 mg. calcium while 1/4 cup of Parmesan has 350 mg. of calcium! And 1/4 cup is not that much; it's what's shown in this photo.
Looking at the nutrition label for Parmesan cheese, it has only 110 calories and 10 g. of protein.
How do other cheeses and dairy snacks compare in calcium content? By the way, most nutrition labels measure calcium in terms of percent of the recommended daily allowance, which is 1,000 mg. for adults under 50. To calculate the mg. of calcium from percents, just multiply by 100 (20% = 200 mg., etc.).
Calcium Content of Cheese and Yogurt:
1 oz. cheddar.............200 mg.
1 oz. goat cheese.........84 mg.
1/4 c. Parmesan.........350 mg.
6 oz. ricotta.................380 mg.
6 oz. cottage cheese..140 mg.
6 oz. Greek yogurt.......200 mg.
6 oz. regular yogurt.....370 mg.
1 oz. string cheese.......200 mg.
The YouTube video I posted by Justin in an earlier blog gives an idea of how to use this homemade rowing machine to do a high intensity interval workout at home, benefiting your entire body as well as strengthening back muscles which leads to better spinal bone density.
It's been about a month since I first tried eating prunes for bone health. I found the brand pictured here at Trader Joe's - they are preservative-free but seem to stay fresh in the zip-lock bag in the kitchen cabinet - no refrigeration needed.
I really like them! It's the perfect sweet thing after dinner, but not too sweet. According to the studies I cited in the previous post, you can get the bone density benefit by eating 6 a day. It's only about 22 calories per prune, or about 132 calories for 6.
What a painless way to do something every day to fight bone loss.
Here's a tip that I learned from the reader who recently contacted me: eating prunes can help build bone density! A 2011 study of postmenopausal women compared eating prunes to eating dried apples and found better BMD scores in those who ate prunes. You can read a summary of the study here. Another article reviewed research in both animals and humans and concluded that there is a positive effect of eating prunes on bone density by slowing bone resorption. Eating 5 or 6 a day seemed to be enough. I think I will try this!
Figs, also can be helpful for your bones, for a different reason: calcium. Three dried figs provide over 100 mg. of calcium - and are high in fiber and other nutrients. One caution is their high sugar content. However, added to a diet that has dairy, nuts, greens and other sources of calcium, figs can help up our calcium intake.
It's October and I haven't written a new post since last spring. Life has been busy! I apologize for letting it go so long this time. There is always more to learn and share.
I was greatly encouraged last week when a reader of this blog filled out a contact form and asked me some great questions. We have had an email conversation that has given each of us new information and ideas to try in our ongoing quest to prevent (or reverse) osteoporosis without harmful medications.
This exchange reminded me of why I write this blog and keep up this website. It's to help people like me who are searching the internet, looking for evidence-based alternatives to drugs like bisphosphonates, which are so commonly prescribed for osteoporosis or even osteopenia. It's also to spread the word about healthy foods, exercises, supplements, practices and safe, new treatments that can help us maintain a strong, healthy spine and hip bones for as long as possible.
I hope you as readers will feel free to leave a comment or fill out the contact form if you have a question or a discovery to share with others who are worried about their fracture risk, a falling DEXA score, or other concern.
As always, this blog is not meant to be taken as medical advice, but only as a sharing of reported studies, articles, etc.
Have you just discovered that you have osteopenia? Guest blogger Dr. Sara Mahoney gives tips for getting started with exercise that can benefit your bone strength.
What is osteopenia and what causes it?
Generally speaking, osteopenia means that your bones are less dense than they should be, and you are at a higher risk for developing a more serious condition called osteoporosis. As we age, we stop creating as much new bone and over time our bones become less dense, increasing our risk for fractures and pain. Women who have gone through menopause are particularly at risk for this because of the change in estrogen levels, as estrogen helps to regulate bone density. Osteopenia can also be caused by inadequate calorie intake, metabolic or hormonal disorders, or other medical treatments like chemotherapy. If you have been diagnosed with osteopenia, make sure you talk with your health care provider about the potential causes, and discuss whether it is safe for you to exercise.
Why should I exercise if I have osteopenia?
Exercise has two primary benefits; it can help you build new bone, and it can increase muscle strength and balance so you reduce your risk of falling (and potentially having a fracture). With weight-bearing exercise such as jogging or jumping, you are actually placing a load on the bone that stimulates new growth in response, much in the same way lifting weights would cause you to increase muscle size.
What kind of exercise is beneficial?
The good news is that all different kinds of exercise can be beneficial! If you are starting an exercise program for the first time, keep in mind that any exercise is better than none and small steps over time can have a big impact later. Speaking of impact, the first type of exercise to consider is one that loads the bone. This means that your hips and spine are holding your body up against gravity and you are adding a repeated load. Examples of weight bearing exercise would be walking, jogging, and jumping based exercise like a jump rope. The faster and/or higher you go, the more load you add to your bones, so jogging loads more than walking. When adding this type of activity, start where you are and increase slowly in time and intensity. So, if you are not walking at all right now, start with 10-15 minutes, several times a week. Each week, add 5 minutes to your walk until you are walking 30-45 minutes per day. If you currently walk regularly, trying slowly increasing the intensity by adding small jogs into your routine. You might try 3 minute walk, 1 minute jog for 30 minutes. As you feel comfortable, increase the number of jogging minutes and decrease the walking until you can jog for 30 minutes at a time. After that, experiment a bit and have fun! Add some 10-20 second sprints into your routine or utilize a jump rope for 30 seconds at a time during your jog.
The second component to think about is muscle strength and balance. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults engage in resistance training at least twice per week, using exercises that target large muscle groups and lift 1-2 sets of at least 8-12 reps. If you don’t have access to a gym with weights, or prefer not to use them, resistance bands or even household items like cans and milk jugs will suffice. There are no magic exercises when it comes to resistance training, but think about trying to get both the front and back of your body, as well as the top and bottom. With balance exercises, you can start with simply standing on one foot (and for first timers, make sure you have a rail, wall or a friend to grab onto) for 30 sec at a time. Work your way up to 3-4 sets of 30 sec on each foot, and when that becomes easy, close your eyes (again, for first timers, make sure you have support).
No matter where you are now, you can start to take steps towards a more active life and using exercise to support your bones.
Sara Mahoney, PhD, FACSM is an associate professor of exercise science
at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky.
In a study from the Mayo Clinic, an exercise that strengthened back muscles helped women in their 60s protect spinal bone density even years after they stopped doing the exercise daily.
Here's a video with a series of back-strengthening exercises you may want to try. (These are not the same as in the study, but are designed to strengthen different areas of the back. As far as I know, they have not been tested for effectiveness in preventing osteoporosis, they are just examples of back exercises.)