Women who have reached menopause, either naturally, or surgically through total hysterectomy, will most likely experience significant decreases in bone density. When a woman’s T-score (bone mineral density compared to same sex 30 year old) is less than -2.5, that woman is considered osteoporotic. When that score is -1.0 to -2.4, the woman is considered osteopenic. Either way, that woman will need to talk to their physician about medical options for their osteopenic/osteoporotic condition, then also consider other ways to increase bone density to prevent fractures in the future.
Exercises that Increase Bone Density
A woman experiencing bone loss will have decreased bone density in the hips,spine, or wrists. Weight bearing exercises will help to increase bone density or prevent the loss of bone in these areas. The rule of thumb is that the woman needs to lift enough weight that the 10th to 12th repetition is difficult, in order to increase bone strength. Her goal will be ultimately 3 sets of 10 to 12 of each exercise. Every 6 weeks, a different exercise, and a different order of exercises should be done in order to prevent accommodation of the muscles.
Exercises for the Hips
1. Squats: Standing with feet shoulder width apart, squat down so that thighs are parallel to ground.
2. Lunges: Take one leg and step forward with large step, so that back leg is extended behind you, and back knee bends and touches ground. Keep front knee at 90 degrees. Bring feet back together, and repeat with other leg.
3. Theraband sideways walking : Take a resistance band, bungee cord, or similar resistance device and tie around both ankles. Keep knees and hips bent slightly, and sidestep to right 10 steps, followed by sidestepping to right for same number of steps.
4. Single Leg Balancing: Stand on an uneven surface, such as a pillow or air cushion, for up to 1 min each leg without support. Repeat with opposite leg up to 3 times each leg.
Exercises for the Spine
5. Prone thoracic extension: Lying on belly, cross arms behind back and raise head and chest off floor.
6. Standing wall slides: Standing up against wall, put back of head against wall by tucking in chin, then raise arms up into a field goal configuration. Ideally wrists and hands should be flush against wall. Finally, slide arms and hands up and down wall. This exercise is best done as frequently as every hour.
7. Lower Abdominal Exercises (NO SIT UPS!!!): Press low back against floor. Bring one knee up, hold, then the other, then one down, followed by the other. Low back should not raise up during entire exercise. Repeat up to 3 sets of ten. Sit ups or crunches should NEVER be done with decreased bone density secondary to risk of osteoporotic compression fractures.
8. Sidelying bilateral leg lifts: Lying on either side, lift both legs up as a unit. Repeat other side. If it is too difficult to lift both legs up when straightened, try bent at knees first.
Exercises for the Wrists
9. Wrist Extension/wrist curls: Use 1 or 2 lb weight to start, and lift weight with wrist supported on edge of table. Start with palm facing down for wrist extension, then repeat with palm facing up for wrist flexion.
10. Wall push ups: Stand facing wall with feet farther from wall and hands on wall, supporting your weight. Push away from wall by straightening your elbows, then lower back towards wall. This will work your wrists, triceps, chest, shoulders and core musculature.
By performing these ten exercises, you should have a good bone building routine that you can stick with to help to increase bone density when you have been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis. When you are ready to progress the exercises, increase or add weight by holding a weight or using a weighted back pack, then repeat the exercises above. Performing the exercises on softer surfaces such as grass will also increase the level of difficulty, and thus, increase the amount of work that your muscles will build bone. Combine these exercises with a calcium and vitamin D rich diet and you are well on your way to increased bone density!