Why DEXA Bone Density Testing Is Crucial For Strong Bones

Bone Density

Did you know that having a DEXA Bone Density Test is the best way to check bone mineral density (or bone mass) levels? This helps you determine if you are suffering from osteoporosis. In fact, over 6 million Australians have low bone mineral density and many are unaware it’s even occurring, let alone how to prevent it from worsening.

What Is a DEXA Bone Density Test?

Bone Density Test

A DEXA (Dual X-ray absorptiometry) scan measures bone density to determine your risk of breaking bones based on how many grams of calcium or other bone minerals there are packed into each segment of bone. The higher your bone mineral content levels, the denser your bones are. This means you can learn of osteoporosis before you break any bones. The test can also be utilised after you are diagnosed to determine how well your osteoporosis medications are working and if your bone density is better, worse, or the same as during a previous testing. Common areas of DEXA scan testing include the hip, spine, and forearm. According to the NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases Natural Resource Center, your bone density score (or T-score) will indicate normal bone density at -1.0, low bone density (or osteopenia) at -1.1 to -1.6, or osteoporosis at -2.5 or below. You may also receive a Z-score, which is a comparison to what the normal bone density is for someone your age and build.

Who Needs a Bone Density Test?

Osteoporosis is more common in post-menopausal women, though men are also at risk, especially over age 50. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), you should have a bone density test if any of the following apply to you:

  • women over 65
  • post-menopausal women under 65 with risk factors
  • post-menopausal women with risk factors
  • men over 70
  • men aged 50-69 with risk factors
  • you have broken a bone after the age of 50
  • an x-ray has shown bone loss or breakage in your spine
  • you have back pain with possible breakage in your spine
  • loss of height over ½ inch within a one-year span
  • total loss of height of 1 ½ inches from your original height

Bone Density Testing and Osteoporosis Prevention

When it comes to osteoporosis, prevention of fractures is key. Getting a bone density test can arm you with the information you need to create positive behavioural change in your life, which in turn increases your overall health and reduces your risk for fractures and bone loss. A 2010 study, Bone Density Testing: An Under-Utilised and Under-Researched Health Education Tool for Osteoporosis Prevention? studies pre-menopausal women over a two-year span with a controlled trial exploring education intervention. The study concluded that giving individualised fracture risk feedback to participants improved rates of calcium supplementation, physical activity, and bone mineral density. The increase in physical activity is an important behavioural change because of the myriad benefits exercise has on bone strength.

The Link Between Physical Activity and Bone Density

Much like the 2010 study, we see many clients upon getting their bone density scan results, enquiring about and embarking on a physical fitness regime. The initial scan results act as a baseline for future improvement. Because bone is living tissue, it responds to exercise and your bones become stronger as a result. From about the age of 30, we all start to lose bone. One of the best ways to reduce bone loss is through regular exercise. Studies have shown a direct link between exercise and increased bone density.

Typical Exercises for Better Bone Health

The NOF recommends two types of exercises for stronger bones: weight bearing and muscle strengthening. Let’s look at some examples:

Weight-bearing exercises

These exercises are either high or low impact and are performed while you are standing upright and working against gravity. Some examples from the NOF include:

High Impact

  • Dancing
  • Jogging/running
  • Skipping
  • Stair climbs
  • Hiking

Low impact

  • Elliptical machines / cross trainer
  • Brisk walking
  • Low impact aerobics

Muscle-strengthening exercises

Also known as weight training or resistance training, this involves pushing or pulling a weight against gravity. Here are some examples:

  • Lifting free weights (dumbbells, barbells etc.)
  • Using weight machines
  • Using your own body weight as resistance (push ups, pull ups, dips etc.)
  • Fitness bands (elastic bands of varying resistance)

How Often Do I Need to Exercise for Stronger Bones?

We always recommend speaking with a qualified exercise professional and your doctor before undertaking any new fitness plan. However, here are some basic guidelines from the NOF:

Weight bearing exercises

30 mins per day either in one session or at various stages throughout the day – the key is to get up and move

Muscle-strengthening/Weight training

Two to three days per week utilising a progressive overload program. Don’t bet tempted to lift weights every day or you will risk overtraining and injury

Hopefully this article has helped explain DEXA bone scanning and the relationship between knowing your bone density and the benefits of physical activity for stronger bones.

This piece was written by Jarrad White, Physiotherapist and Director of Metabolic Measures, Australian DEXA scanning service providers.

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