Osteopenia can be defined as a condition characterized by low bone density. Left untreated, it can progress to a more serious form of low bone density, osteoporosis. Postmenopausal women have a higher risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia. Low bone mineral density means less quantity or strength of bone and, if unaddressed, this can lead to increased risk of fractures. Fractures, especially in later life, can significantly affect a person's life by altering their physical health and limiting their independence.
In order to prevent or manage osteopenia, you'll want to include a regimen of proven bone-building exercises that slow or help reverse the progression of bone loss in your body. You'll also want to include balance exercises that keep you strong and steady on your feet so that you can keep debilitating falls leading to bone fractures at bay.
Not all exercises are equally beneficial for your bone health. Doing the correct type of exercises can help slow the loss of bone and build new bone mass while improving strength, posture and balance (Kemmler, 2020). In this article, we'll help you understand the best exercises for people with osteopenia and those who are determined to prevent osteopenia from developing in the first place, and how these exercises form the basis of Wellen's workout program.
What are the best exercises for osteopenia?
The best exercises for osteopenia help women improve or maintain bone density, increase muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls and fractures by improving balance and posture (Benedetti, 2018). Wellen's personalized fitness program places a significant emphasis on weight-bearing, resistance, posture and balance exercises for women with osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Weight-bearing exercises for osteopenia
Weight-bearing exercises are an essential part of any exercise routine designed to help build stronger bones. A weight-bearing exercise involves putting weight through the bones, often using your own body weight, which can help stimulate bone growth and increase bone density.
Weight-bearing exercises can be low-impact or high-impact:
- Low-impact exercises include bodyweight exercises, strength training exercises, tai chi, low impact aerobics, elliptical training machines, and even physical activity around the house like taking in the groceries and gardening.
- High-impact exercises include running, jumping, HIIT workouts, step aerobics, and tennis.
Studies have shown that high-impact exercises can actually boost your bone strength (Brooke-Wavell, 2022; Kistler-Fischbacher, 2021). However, they are not for everyone. Depending on your bone density, fracture history and physical fitness, certain high-impact weight-bearing exercises may not be appropriate for you (Brooke-Wavell, 2022). Before jumping into high-impact exercises (pun intended), it is advised that you have a thorough physical exam and speak with your doctor or physical therapist about what is best for you and your bone health.
Resistance exercises for osteopenia
Resistance training is also an essential part of any bone health exercise program (Watson, 2018). Resistance exercises involve working against a force, such as weights, elastic exercise bands, or your own body weight. These strength-training exercises help strengthen muscles, which can help support and protect the bones, while also improving bone strength.
While performing these bone-strengthening exercises with free weights may be right for people with osteopenia, weight machines that help guide movements may be more suggested to maintain healthy bones in those with osteoporosis. Resistance bands also offer a more controlled way to perform resistance training without risking injury to fragile bones.
Wellen incorporates a variety of resistance exercises into its workouts to target different muscle groups and promote overall strength. Some examples include: bicep curls with weight, squats with weight, standing horizontal shoulder abduction with resistance, and prone middle trapezius “T” with weight.
Posture exercises for osteopenia
Poor posture can put extra stress on the bones and increase the risk of vertebral fractures (compression fractures that happen in your spine). This can happen as people bend forward as they age instead of maintaining an upright posture, especially if they already have weakened bones. It can also increase one's risk of falls by altering one's center of gravity forward.
Wellen's posture exercises focus on strengthening the major muscle groups that support good posture and alignment, such as the core and back muscles. Posture exercises for osteopenia include: prone thoracic extension with scapular retraction, quadruped alternate shoulder flexion with hip extension and planks.
Balance exercises for osteopenia
Balance exercises are a crucial component of any exercise program designed to prevent fractures. One out of every 5 falls causes an injury, such as broken bones or a head injury. Balance exercises improve stability and reduce the risk of falls. Some examples of balance exercises included in Wellen's program: double leg heel raises, circles in the sand, and tiger balancing on front paws
While it's easy to bucket balance and flexibility exercises mentally, it may not be best in practice unless you're working with a physical therapist in person. Movements that are both balance and flexibility exercises may increase your risk of falling during an exercise session. For that reason, it's best to do balance and flexibility separately so you can challenge and improve these skills for strong bones in a safe way. If you want to try these combination movements, it's best to have in-person supervision and make sure your physical therapist has cleared you.
How does Wellen help with osteopenia?
Wellen's personalized fitness program focuses on weight-bearing, resistance, posture, and balance exercises that have been proven to be beneficial for women with osteopenia. Our exercises help women with osteopenia safely increase strength and reduce the risk of falls and fractures.
But don't stop there – be sure to incorporate weight-bearing activities such as walking, hiking, and jogging (when appropriate) into your regular routine to complement any exercise program you do with Wellen.
Ready to try Wellen for yourself? Sign up for your personalized fitness program today.
Exercises for osteopenia FAQs
What exercise is best for osteopenia?
The best exercise program for bone health in someone with osteopenia is one that combines weight-bearing exercises, strength training exercises, balance exercises and posture exercises. In combination, these exercise types support your bone health because they can either improve bone density or slow bone loss. This type of workout routine helps massively with fall prevention.
Can exercise improve osteopenia?
While exercise can improve osteopenia ultimately depends on someone's individual bone health, but exercise can help many people with osteopenia to varying degrees. If you start exercising with the right program (one that includes strength training, weight-bearing physical activity, balance training and posture exercises), you may be able to improve your bone strength and bone mass. Even in those who cannot strengthen bones by spurring the body to build bone tissue, the right program can slow the loss of bone mass to delay the progression of osteopenia and related bone diseases.