October 1st, 2010
08:40 AM ET

How much weight is needed to strengthen my bones?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Question asked by Amy of Houston, Texas:

I am 39 years old and petite (5 feet and weigh about 94 pounds). My doctor recommended that I work out with weights to increase my bone density, since my small size puts me at greater risk for osteoporosis as I get older. How much weight is needed to strengthen my bones and are there certain types of exercises that would be most beneficial for this purpose?

Expert answer:

Hi Amy - It is terrific that your doctor is taking such a proactive approach to your health. Prevention is definitely the best approach when it comes to osteoporosis, especially because the lifetime risk for women of an osteoporosis-related bone fracture is 30 to 40 percent.

A combination of weight training and weight-bearing cardiovascular exercise is important for stressing your muscles and bones, which helps to strengthen them and thereby decreases your risk for osteoporosis.

When it comes to weights, you should work all major muscle groups (back, chest, arms/shoulders, abdominal muscles, and legs/buttocks) at least twice a week. Aim for two sets of each exercise, eight to 12 repetitions per set.

Be sure to perform exercises in a controlled manner rather than using momentum and gravity to lift and lower the weights. The amount of weight you use should be challenging enough that your muscles feel tired by the end of the second set.

If you are new to weight training, you may want to hire a personal trainer to show you proper weight lifting form to prevent injury or use the machines to ensure that you use proper form.

For cardiovascular exercise, weight-bearing, higher-impact activities such as walking, jogging and aerobics are better than nonweight-bearing or lower-impact exercise such as swimming, cycling and elliptical machines, which put less strain on your muscles and bones. Aim for at least 30 minutes five days a week for osteoporosis prevention and optimal health.

And don't forget about diet. Getting adequate amounts of calcium (1,000 mg/day until you hit age 51, at which point you should increase to 1,200 mg/day) and vitamin D (400-1,000 IU per day) is essential.

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially deep green leafy vegetables rich in vitamin K, can also help. Make sure to eat plenty of high-quality, lean protein like fat-free dairy, egg whites, fish and skinless chicken (protein should make up about 20 percent of your total calories) and limit vitamin A fortified foods or multivitamins with high doses of vitamin A, which can negatively impact bone health.

Skip supplements like black cohosh, which do not seem to offer any added benefit to diet and exercise. Finally, don't smoke, and limit alcohol and coffee consumption (too much caffeine can impair the absorption of calcium) for a complete osteoporosis prevention program.

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. bill

    I agree with everything that is said here...some people are lazy like me or what have you...But the less you eat the longer one will live..I juice vegetqables everyother day to make sure I get my veggies...I prefare them raw...use lemon and olive oil now and then..I do take vitamins not knowing that they are helping..because I do not know if they are good vitamins..the government doesn't tell me..Right food in a small amount will keep you healthy, wealthy and wise...Nevgreco from Las Vegas..

    October 1, 2010 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. bill

    I have a little yougurt everyother day...skim milk only..go out to the Sun now and then...I am a senior of 80 and it is good to mix with youngsters now and then...I can only look at women now but do the best that I can....Get off your ass and start moving...No stress...Stay away from getting depressed, it can take over..Get some naked ladies in your computer..think of the days that were...Nev the Greek from Vegas..Fish is good also...I am avoiding meat now..

    October 1, 2010 at 11:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Valerie


      That was creepy.

      October 1, 2010 at 12:22 | Report abuse |
    • Boka

      Nothing wrong with naked ladies. I look at them often. But don't be so quick to avoid meat. Beef has a ton of nutrients. The lean varities like sirloin and top round have very little fat and cholesterol.

      October 1, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
  3. J


    October 1, 2010 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Karen

    Oh, get over it – if that gets someone's heart rate into gear, so be it! (If you're just finding out that internet porn has no age limits, welcome to the real world, folks!) You go, Bill! It sounds like you're doing things right, and staying lively!

    October 1, 2010 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Chris Menard

    Women need much, much more vitamin D daily than a meaningless 400-1000 i.u.

    Women need 5000 i.u. / day and not a molecules less.

    Your doctors got you sick and frail by their idiotic advice to fear the sun.

    The whole osteo-everything is the singular result of a chronic lack of vitamin D.

    The calcium aspect of supplementation was HUGELY overstated.

    It was vitamin D deficiency all along, not the G.D. calcium!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    When lifting weights push yourself to the point you sweat.

    Use enough weight to make your muscles burn- a little bit- after 2 sets.

    A lifetime of avoiding gravity can be overcome by regular weight training, and PLENTY OF VITAMIN D !

    October 1, 2010 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Kelli

    Your Doctor gave you good advice - it will work! I am 32 with a small frame also (5'6 and 115 lbs.) I have never taken calcium or vitamin D supplements, but I eat plenty of foods containing both, and get moderate sun. Anyway, I've lifted weights pretty consistently from age 18 to now, even while pregnant with each of my 3 kids (I nursed all of them to over a year old, which also depletes your calcium), and I just had a bone density scan & it was 132% compared to the average 30 year old. 🙂 Proof that weight lifting really does help!

    October 4, 2010 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. CC

    That's a long winded answer that never actually answer the question presented.

    October 5, 2010 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Lynn Lorton

    This medical bone density is not the true physical "density" of the bone, which would be computed as mass per volume. It is measured by a procedure called densitometry, often performed in the radiology or nuclear medicine departments of hospitals or clinics. The measurement is painless and non-invasive and involves low radiation exposure. .",^

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    June 9, 2013 at 20:56 | Report abuse | Reply
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