Weight Lifting to Reverse Osteoporosis

Published 2.16.2020: This piece inaugurates a new series here at the arena because I am beginning a new weight training program to treat my osteoporosis. At least, my intention is to turn it into a series, time will tell. I am doing this with a physical therapist, but not the specialist I am seeing. I will inform the specialist when I see her at my annual appointment this summer that I've started the program.

I am still off osteoporosis drugs because my disease is still stable. The five year "vacation" is past though, and the doctors want very much to get me back on the drugs. This is my attempt to forestall going back on the drugs. It may not work, but I think it's worth the effort.

I don't want to rehash my entire treatment saga, but the last time I was on the drugs my HDL (so called good cholesterol) shot through the roof on the drugs. In noting that to the specialist as the reason why I didn't want to take the same drug again, she did allow that the osteoporosis drug I was on did, in fact, work through a "cholesterol pathway," something I'd never known before.

Since I objected to the go-to drug option, the specialist suggested a different drug, one that doesn't use the same pathway, is a shot and can't be taken for too long. Plus once you go off it, because it doesn't linger in the body you have to immediately take the pills I want to avoid.
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Source: pixabay.com
Anyway, because my disease is basically stable, she allowed that I could stay off the drugs for now and I was supposed to get my cholesterol results to them (I switched labs and so they don't have all the data). I haven't done that yet, but I can bring them to the appointment too.

The program (after completely burying the lede) I'm adopting is based on the LIFTMOR study conducted in Australia. The original study results were published in 2015, and a followup was published in 2019 that found the BMD gains were maintained if the women kept lifting.

The reason the study jumped out at me is that the subjects were post menopausal women. Typically osteoporosis studies focus on women in the early stages of the disease who are in peri-menopause. At that point the expectation is that you can still gain bone density.

Post menopause? Not so much. Post menopause you're expected to shut up, pop the pill, and monitor your loss of bone density every two years. My anecdotal evidence is that the efficacy of the drugs available for osteoporosis is vastly overstated, but that is not the issue here.

The LIFTMOR study did not ask the subjects to cease taking their osteoporosis drugs. Both groups (the test group and the controls) were on the drugs. The point wasn't to show drugs were unnecessary, but rather to show that
  1. post menopausal women could take up weights (all the women were novices)
  2. post menopausal women would not be injured by the exercise program
  3. post menopausal women would benefit from the program and see increased bone mineral density (BMD).

All three points were achieved. Eight months later a follow up study found that the BMD gains were maintained if the women kept lifting weights. In fact, the follow up study found that women in the control group increased their BMD if they took up lifting.

Details… sort of

Color me sold. I've lifted weights before— I basically taught myself how to deadlift watching Youtube videos. And I did so after reading a blog post or watching a video about this study. So this study isn't completely news to me.

But this time, I'm not watching Youtube videos to learn technique. This time I'm working with a physical therapist (PT) so that she can teach me the proper technique and show me how to properly develop my core muscles to do it safely. I'm also going to do all the lifts included in the protocol (I didn't the first time because I only felt safe doing the deadlift). The full work out is 5 sets of 5 deadlifts, back squats, and overhead presses.

Additionally there is a drop jump that I'm doing with the PT in her studio, but may not do at the gym on my own because it's not a standard move. I may simply jump instead. The purpose of the jumping is to jar the femur (thigh bone) and the spine. The study has the women do a jump pull up, then drop. It's essentially a body weight exercise.

We aren't following the study timeline precisely, because I'm not a novice and the PT thinks that I can progress more quickly. Ultimately I want to do the sessions at the local gym (which I will need to rejoin). Per the study, the women did the prescribed lifting two times a week.

The PT would like me to lift three times a week, but we'll see. If I start going back to the gym my husband says he will as well. Unlike our last foray into fitness, these sessions will have to be first thing in the morning. My PT sessions are as well, because that's the only time I have with the demands of our offline business.

I haven't decided the frequency of pieces about this effort, but I do hope to make it an ongoing series. Thus far in our sessions the PT evaluated my fitness level (not good) and has shown me the correct way to do the lifts. I think at our next session we will be determining my one rep max— basically the amount of weight I can successfully lift just once. Then the load will be set at 50-80% of that number for the 5 sets of 5 reps for each lift.

Not all the updates are likely to be as long as this, but then again, it depends on what emanates from my fingertips, as I am my own editor here. Stay tuned.

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