Ask the Expert: Rachel Tavel, PT, DPT, CSCS

Box of stretch bands
If you’ve been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis, you probably have a lot of questions. Learn more about osteopenia, osteoporosis and active aging from a carefully curated list of experts in the field.
Disclaimer: If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Well Guide contain information from peer-reviewed research, medical societies and governmental agencies; however, these articles are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Rachel Tavel is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and writer. Her writing has been published in Forbes, Men’s Health, Runner’s World, SELF, Bicycling Magazine, The Huffington Post, and other publications. She co-authored the book “Stretch Yourself Healthy Guide: Easy Routines to Relieve Pain, Boost Energy, and Feel Refreshed” (Prevention, 2020) and is a Forbes Health Advisory Board Member. Rachel is the Director of Content at Wellen.

1. What brought you to Wellen?

I love being a physical therapist, and I love sharing what I’ve learned in written form. My plan has always been to find a way to do both. When Priya approached me about joining Wellen, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to do just that. I find the start-up environment full of possibilities and as a woman in my late 30s, I’ve grown more passionate about serving the unique needs of women as we age. Wellen’s mission to change the statistics on osteoporosis got me thinking about all the potential of a company like ours. I’m excited to explore new ways to reach people and address women’s health issues that haven't received the attention they deserve.

2. What is the hardest thing about designing a personalized exercise program for women with osteoporosis and osteopenia?

When designing personalized exercise programs for people with osteoporosis or osteopenia, I want to provide them with programs that are safe, effective and motivating to do. The programs have to be appropriate for a variety of individuals with varying goals, activity levels and bone density levels. There are exercises that should be emphasized as well as movements and positions that should be avoided. The hardest thing about designing personalized exercise programs is making sure everyone gets a workout tailored to their needs and goals while being both challenging and safe. As a physical therapist, I’m used to treating individuals and adapting a plan to the person in front of me. In this case, I have to step back; I’m guiding people and empowering them to take control of their own health.

3. How do you choose which exercises to include in Wellen’s program?

There are three main pillars to the Wellen exercise program: strength, balance and posture. All of Wellen’s exercises address one or more of these areas and are backed by science. We take into consideration all the movements and positions women in this population should avoid, as well as which types of exercises they should focus on. Every exercise in our library has been added by a doctor of physical therapy. So when it comes to building an exercise program, we have an amazing assortment of vetted exercises to choose from and can address different body zones, goals and abilities. 

4. If an exercise feels easy or slow, is it still helping me build bone?

While you may be used to exercises being fast and workouts making you sweat, it takes a lot of strength to slow down and control movement. This creates stability and improves body awareness. Slowing down can also ensure that an exercise is done properly and safely, which is important before adding any kind of progression or resistance. Some exercises may even feel harder when slowed down. We build bone by stressing our musculoskeletal system while supporting it with proper nutrition and alignment.

5. How do you choose which topics to write about in the Well Guide?

I always enjoy coming up with topics to write about in the Well Guide because, while so many women have been diagnosed with osteopenia and osteoporosis, there seems to be a lack of conversation about it all. Women have questions, and they deserve answers they can trust. The Well Guide gives us the opportunity to answer all the questions women might have and empower them by providing them with the latest information about their diagnosis. Our team of experts is here to tackle any topic that comes up around bone health. We begin with common questions, recent news and popular search terms, but we are always open to Wellen users sharing what they’d like to learn more about.

6. Where does Wellen get its information when creating articles and choosing the best exercises for bone health?

Our goal is to provide women with the most accurate and up-to-date information that exists on the subject of osteoporosis and osteopenia. Because of this, our sources of information have to be the best out there. We rely heavily on high level research studies found through PubMed and other search engines, but much of our foundational information comes directly from the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation, as well as the National Institute of Health and International Osteoporosis Foundation. Additionally, all of our articles, exercises and assessments have been reviewed by experts in the field.  

7. What role does social media play in helping us age actively?

Social media is a great way to package easily digestible information quickly and frequently. While it may seem silly at times, helpful information can be shared easily and broadly using visual tools and links to articles and other posts that allow people to gain a deeper understanding of the topics covered. It is also a great way to facilitate conversations and build community. Active aging shouldn’t happen in isolation; social media is one way to show people that they are not alone. If you follow us on social media, you can expect a constant feed of new information, tips and resources that support active aging and bone health. 

8. What is the difference between Wellen and physical therapy?

This is an important question, because there are many major differences. For one, Wellen is many things but it is not physical therapy… at least not yet. Physical therapy is an extremely valuable tool for those who need one-on-one, individualized care, especially anyone with a complex medical history, a history or high risk of falls, or any functional limitations of any kind. It’s always best to see your doctor and/or physical therapist before participating in unsupervised exercises. That said, Wellen’s workouts are designed by physical therapists who understand the limitations, strengths and weaknesses of women over (and way over) 50. For those cleared by their doctor and confident in unsupervised exercises designed for their abilities, we share the same mission as physical therapists: to promote active aging, optimal function and improved bone health.

9. Why aren’t more people talking about osteoporosis?

That’s a good question. With 54 million Americans affected by low bone mass, osteoporosis should be a topic of conversation. Oftentimes, because symptoms are “silent,” people don’t know they have osteoporosis until they experience a fracture or have a routine bone density scan. We tend to talk about “big” issues that affect daily life more. Bone loss is usually slow and gradual, becoming more of a secondary diagnosis to other medical conditions that arise. But just because it is common, it shouldn’t be considered inevitable. Talking about it and how to address it with exercise and lifestyle adjustments (not just medications) is a great way to educate future generations and empower aging adults now. That’s what we’re here to do!

10. What is the most important thing a person can do to age actively?

The most important thing a person can do to age actively is to never stop moving. Whatever you do, keep going. Walk, see friends, cook, garden, hike, swim, travel, play with your grandchildren, engage with other people and the world around you. Explore your body, your movement, your strength. See how it changes as you change over time. Try new things. Adapt. Educate yourself on what is best for you. Ask questions when you aren’t sure. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, even if you’re over 65. Have fun, celebrate your progress, and even if there are occasional setbacks, never stop moving forward. 

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