Under what circumstances would you willingly pile on extra pounds before setting off on your day?

None to zero was my answer until my sister-in-law suggested a weighted vest to strengthen these old bones and help stave off osteoporosis.

And maybe help with scoliosis?


And burn a few extra calories while I’m at it?

I’m in.

But first, research. Was all of this true? (Not that I don’t trust my SIL…)

One thing I knew was that weight training and weight bearing exercises are the gold standard for bone strengthening.

Ever wonder why?

The Harvard online newsletter explains; Activities that put stress on bones stimulate extra deposits of calcium and nudge bone-forming cells into action. The tugging and pushing on bone that occur during strength and power training provide the stress. The result is stronger, denser bones.”

Here’s a quick refresher on these two types of exercise.

Weight bearing exercises:

  • Jogging/Running
  • Walking briskly/hiking
  • Climbing stairs
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Jumping rope
  • Strength training looks like:
  • Using weight machines/free weights
  • Resistance bands
  • Kettle bells/medicine balls

Swimming, yoga, and tai chi — and my love, indoor cycling — are not as effective at strengthening bone but are good for improving muscle tone and depending on the pace or class, can be good for cardiovascular health.

Looking at those lists, how many of those exercises are on your “I love to do this” list?

I’m down with hiking, power walking, and weight machines/free weights, but I don’t do enough of them to get bone building benefits. The rest of them? No thanks.

How about you?

Here is where a weighted vest comes in.

First, what the heck is a weighted vest?

A vest with weight pouches in them.

They vary by style, unisex or gender, and the amount of weight you can pile in.

They drape over the shoulders and are meant to be snug against your upper body. This means less chance of joint injury than if you use hand or ankle weights on a walk. This doesn’t mean that those of you who have knee, hip or ankle problems are good candidates. Check with a PT person or your doc if you have one who deals with your specific issue.

In this study, post-menopausal, sedentary women were enrolled to the see what the results of wearing one (4%-7% of body weight) while doing light aerobic exercise—walking for 30 minutes, 3 times per week would be. They experienced increased calorie burn, and leaner body mass. In both groups, those who wore the vest and those who didn’t, bone was stimulated, and balance was increased but the wearer’s numbers were higher.

The Wall Street Journal reported that, “A four-year study of 167 postmenopausal women found bone density was improved by an exercise program that included weight training and stair climbing with a weighted vest.”

Dr. Susan Brown, a bone health expert, and someone I interviewed back in 2010. (2010!!!)

(I’m working on having her back for the podcast, fingers crossed because she really is one of the greats in the world of bones, preventing fractures, understanding osteoporosis, and more.) She has blog posts on weight belts and vests, who benefits and how, and how to choose the right one and the right amount of weight. This one is a good place to start.

About balance

Don’t know about you, but I’m serious about balance. I stand up to put my socks on, strike a flamingo pose while brushing my teeth, and wear my weight vest while housekeeping.

And walking, biking, and gardening.

Anything that improves muscle conditioning and strength improves balance.

Over at Zogics.com blog I found this, “Such a vest improves the body’s balancing ability as it adds weight to the upper portion. As one moves his upper body, gravity pulls it downward, causing the body to balance itself. “

What I’ve noticed after wearing the vest I chose for about 8 months (3 days a week if I remember, and it’s not really hot out) is that my core is stronger. I can’t measure calorie burn, but I’m staying at a comfortable weight even without adding more exercise now that my gardening time is almost nil.

Wearing the vest reminds me to sit or stand up straight. A good way to prevent the humped posture that many older people end up with.

If you do decide to add a vest or belt to your age better protocol, don’t start with more than a pound or two. Your body will have to adjust to the increase in weight so start low. If you get fatigued in the shoulders, hips, or knees, take it off. Try again the next day.

Putting on a weighted vest and doing the things I’d normally do without it is like working out without taking time out of the day to do it. And for those who don’t love exercise, a vest or belt allows you to build some muscle and bone without the gym or machines.

I’m not going to recommend a specific vest. It’s a personal choice and in part will depend on how you are built. But there are plenty of options out there. Here’s a list of Best Weighted Vests from VeryWellFit.com.

Categories include best for walking, for women, for men, on a budget, and more.

I wasn’t sold on the idea right away but I’m glad I took SIL’s advice. Wearing the vest is one of the simplest things I do to help with three important age better habits: building bones, maintaining balance, and keeping that calorie burn high.