A bone density test can tell you if you have osteopenia, low bone density, or osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and brittle.
The lower your bone density, the higher risk you are at for breaking a bone.
Both conditions can be prevented through a well-balanced diet that includes adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D and regular exercise — but the type of exercise is key.
Weight-bearing exercises are exercises that make your bones work against gravity through the use of your own body weight or actual weights. Examples of weight-bearing exercises are climbing stairs, lifting weights, walking and running.
They actually build bone and it is never too late to start doing them, even if you have already been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis.
This was recently proven by a local Plattsburgh resident who, to protect her privacy, will be referred to as “Jenny” for the remainder of this article.
Jenny’s bone density results classified her as having osteopenia in both legs as well as her lower spine in 2010, which eventually led to osteoporosis in her right leg by 2012. This came as a surprise to her since her diet included calcium and vitamin D.
Furthermore, she regularly engaged in yoga, pilates and walking, adding up to the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week, sometimes more, when kayaking and biking were added to her routine in the summer.
Jenny was determined to find a way to improve her bone density scores without relying on bone density drug therapy. She decided to enlist the help of personal trainers at the UVM Health Network, CVPH Wellness and Fitness Center to evaluate her current exercise routine.
With their help, she learned what weight bearing exercises were and was taught how to perform them properly and safely. Before long, her usual exercise routine included boot camps — weight-bearing body weight exercises, jumping jacks, jump roping and more.
Jenny felt stronger, vitalized, and overall healthier — just what she needed.
But that was not all that changed. Her recent 2016 bone density results showed an overall positive 3.4 percent change in her spine, 2.8 percent change in her left leg, and a 6.7 percent change in her right leg since 2014, changing her classification from osteopenia to normal and osteoporosis to osteopenia respectively.
So how does it really work? Without getting scientific, let me try to give you a visual to help explain how weight bearing activities actually build bone.
When you consume calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients, they are converted to bone building cells and added to your “bone cell bank,” similar to when you add money to your savings account.
Your supply of bone cells will sit there until they are called to action, similar to how your money will sit in the bank until you have a reason to go and withdraw it.
If you ever broke a bone, you have already experienced how your bone cells were called to action — they were withdrawn from your “bone cell bank” and used to rebuild the bone. You may even have a bump at the site of the break as your receipt of the withdrawal and repair.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to go around breaking bones to get to your bone cell savings like breaking your ceramic piggy bank to get to your money. Weight bearing exercises adds stress to your bones.
This signals your body to withdraw from the “bone cell bank” and build more bone around the impacted area in order to uphold the weight it is bearing. Without this signal, there is no need for withdrawal; there is no need to build more bone. Similar to your savings account, your bones will become dormant with no activity.
Pulling it all together, prevention through diet and the right exercise, is key but being diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis is not your “failed at prevention” notice with no point of return.
As Jenny learned, it is never too late to start and you can beat osteoporosis.
Rebecca Boire-West is a Personal Trainer at the University of Vermont Health Network, CVPH Wellness and Fitness Center. She is also a licensed Massage Therapist, Health Coach and owner of Body in Balance Therapy. She can be reached at 518-578-2369