Osteopenia -- a loss of bone mineral density that is not severe enough to be classified as osteoporosis -- can put you at risk for osteoporosis and increase your susceptibility to broken bones. According to Johns Hopkins Health Alerts, more than 50 percent of the bone fractures in postmenopausal women occur in women with osteopenia rather than osteoporosis. A proper exercise routine can help you not only prevent further bone loss, but also maintain and even increase your existing bone density.
The name osteopenia is a literal translation from the Greek, meaning "bone poverty." Osteopenia affects women more commonly than men -- whose osteopenia is usually linked to excessive alcohol intake, low testosterone and gastrointestinal problems -- and usually develops after age 50. Osteopenia is diagnosed based on a figure called a T-score. A negative number indicates bones that are less dense than the ideal; the lower the number, the greater the bone loss. A T-score of -1.0 to to -2.5 is characterized as osteopenia, while any score lower than -2.5 is classified as osteoporosis. For every 1 point of standard deviation from the ideal, your fracture risk is doubled.
Osteopenia can be treated with biphosphonate medications as well as supplementary dosages of calcium and vitamin D. In addition, weight bearing exercise -- by helping to maintain and even increase bone mineral density -- can help stop the progression toward osteoporosis. According to Johns Hopkins Health Alert, women who exercised for 26 months increased their bone mineral density by 0.7 percent, compared with a 2.3 percent loss of density in a group of non-exercising women.
Optimal Exercises for Osteopenia
Weight bearing exercise, which works against gravity and stimulates bone formation, is more effective in preventing osteoporosis than non-weight bearing exercises such as cycling and swimming. Walking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis and dancing are often recommended for people with osteopenia. Johns Hopkins Health Alert adds that running and jumping have been shown to be particularly effective in enhancing bone formation. Work out with hand-held free weights, and consult an exercise specialist to craft a safe and effective workout tailored to your abilities. The NIAMSD website recommends at least two sessions of resistance training per week, with eight to 12 repetitions of eight to 10 exercises.
Specific Osteopenia Exercises
You can do hip kicks, recommended by Osteopenia3.com, by bracing yourself against a counter with one hand, lifting your leg straight out to the side and then lowering it. Extend your leg out to the back, then swing it gently out to extend in front of you. Repeat the side, back and front sequence eight times, then switch to your other leg. Be careful not to overextend your legs; you should feel tension, not pain. Also strengthen your back and hips by rising from a straight-backed chair without using your hands, repeating the movement several times.
Precautions and Safety Considerations
Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen for osteopenia or osteoporosis, and be aware that the wrong type of exercises can do more harm than good. Avoid crunches and sit-ups if you have osteopenia; these exercises increase the chances of compression fractures in your lower spine. Also avoid exercises that flex, band or twist your spine, as well as high-impact activities.