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Weighted Vests for Bone Health

Weight bearing physical activity is important for reducing bone loss.  However, to increase bone density, activities — such as high impact aerobics or running — must generate relatively high loading forces.  For people who can’t tolerate high impact activities, does wearing a weighted vest provide that extra load?

The current evidence on weighted vests

Weighted vests have pockets for small removable weights.  Some studies have shown that performing activities such as walking, jumping, and resistance exercises while wearing vests loaded with weights equivalent to 4% to 10% of body weight (5–13 pounds in a 130 pound woman) might help stabilize bone density and would likely also improve balance.

However, while it makes sense that this should result in lower risk of falls and fractures, it has not yet been proven in any studies. The data do seem to support an advantage of wearing weighted vest IF you use it together with fairly aggressive muscle training exercise.

What benefits have been established about weighted vests?

Balance improvement was seen in a 6-week study[1] of participants who worked vigorously on a treadmill with a weighted vest. The groups using the vests showed a slight reduction in bone loss activity as measured by chemical markers in the blood. There were no measurements of bone density.

Leg strength improvement was seen in a 12-week study[2] where participants exercised 3 times a week with machines that provided progressively increasing resistance while wearing a weighted vest during the exercises.  There were no other effects on bone measured.

Long term bone density stability was seen in a 5-year study[3] of 9 women who choose to enter a supervised exercise program while wearing a weighted vest. The women jumped up and down an average of 4 inches, 52 times, 3 times a week for 5 years.  Compared to the women who did not exercise, the bone density in their hips was relatively stable while the 5-year cumulative loss was 3–4% in those who did not participate.

What should you know if you try a weighted vest?

  • Be sure the vest is both comfortable and fits snugly. If the vest shifts, your balance can be thrown off.
  • Weighted vests should not exceed 10% of your body weight — for example, the weight should not exceed 15 pounds for a 150-pound person.[4]
  • Weighted vests can worsen back and joint problems.[4] Add weight gradually.
  • Stop if you have soreness that persists. Don’t resume until you feel well again, and then at a lower weight load.

[1] Roghani T, et al. Effects of short-term aerobic exercise with and without external loading on bone metabolism and balance in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. Rheumatol Int 33(2); 291-298, 2013

[2] Bean JF, et al. Increased Velocity Exercise Specific to Task (InVEST) Training: A Pilot Study Exploring Effects on Leg Power, Balance, and Mobility in Community-Dwelling Older Women.  J Am Geriatr Soc 52(5); 799-804, 2004

[3] Snow CM, et al. Long-term exercise using weighted vests prevents hip bone loss in postmenopausal women. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 55(9); M489-491, 2000

[4]  Wearable Weights : How They Can Help or Hurt. Harvard Health Letter May 2018

Posted: 12/5/2016; Revised: 3/20/19

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