March 27, 2017

Unexpected Benefit from Challenges Limiting Usual Exercise

An interview with Sally S. Fitts, Ph.D., Research Associate, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

  1. Sally, how did you find out your bone density was low? Can you tell us what that means?
    I was previously told I have osteopenia, which is a common condition among women older than 50.  Osteopenia means bone density is below normal, but not low enough for a diagnosis of osteoporosis.My physician ordered a DEXA scan to monitor my bone density. DEXA is a painless scan that usually focuses on the hip and spine, and helps doctors assess the risk of bone fracture.
  1. What were some suggestions made by your physician?
    My physician recommended calcium and vitamin D supplements, but I knew I needed alternative forms of exercise because months of being unable to walk before and after knee surgery would further decrease my bone density.
  1. How do you stay motivated to be physically active?
    I am motivated to keep an exercise routine to feel good and have fun.  There are many health benefits of physical exercise, including prevention of osteoporosis. Strength training has been shown to prevent osteoporosis-related fractures by preventing bone loss.I’ve always enjoyed aerobic physical activities like walking, swimming laps, and using dumbbells for upper body strength. Hiking is my favorite recreation. I use a technique called “habit stacking” to start a new habit. For example, I make myself earn a swim, a habit I enjoy, by first doing a new habit like weight training.
  1. During your workout, how much weight do you use and what types of exercises are you doing?
    I do only lower body weight training at the gym, using light weights so the first 10 reps are easy, then I do 20 reps. When increasing weight, I start with only 10 reps then increase reps gradually. I’ve worked up to 20-30 minutes per session, two or three times weekly.
  1. Where did you get your workout routine?
    My exercise routine and recreation were challenged twice in 2016 — by knee surgery in the spring and by pneumonia that led to asthma in the fall. I did weight training in physical therapy before and after knee surgery, and continue similar exercises at the gym. When I was unable to do any aerobic exercise, I tried weight training instead of my usual physical exercise.
  2. What can you do with your new-found strength?
    I can now climb taller steps with no knee pain, and I have less fear of injury from a fall.
  1. What impact has weight training had on you other than better bone density?
    I’m very encouraged to continue weight training now I know that such a small change made a measurable improvement in my bone density, even while health challenges limited my usual physical activities. Muscle mass also declines with normal aging, so I know weight training will help me maintain it or slow the decline.