Why carrying heavy shopping bags is good for you

I've mentioned umpteen times in many posts that strength training and weight bearing exercises are extremely good for your bone health and help prevent dreaded diseases like osteoporosis or the brittle bone disease.

And no, strength training exercises don't bulk you up -- they in fact help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass and make you look fitter and leaner.

woman lifting a kettle bell

Benefits of strength training exercises and lifting weights

Doing weight training exercises over a period of time will make you flexible, prevent bone loss and even help you develop a new bone.

WebMD says that postmenopausal women who participated in a strength training program for a year saw significant increases in their bone density in the spine and hips, areas affected most by osteoporosis in older women.

As per NHS's new physical activity guidelines, we should do muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two days a week, including carrying heavy shopping or intensive gardening, Adhering to these recommendations will slash the risk of diabetes, heart disease, mental health conditions and loneliness.

As a matter of fact, a pleasurable activity and a hobby such as gardening is found to be extremely beneficial for a strong bone health  and additionally offers better emotional health too.

NHS also urges pregnant women and new mothers to do at least 150 minutes of exercise a week - including muscle-strengthening - just like all other adults.

Although adults should ideally aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week, doing intensive bursts for a shorter duration of time may be just as beneficial.

woman carrying too many shopping bags

How carrying heavy shopping bags mimics weight bearing exercises

The rise of  Internet shopping has led to fewer people carrying their grocery bags. Not enough people realise the need to maintain strength as we age by doing such simple, day to day tasks. Just by doing such mundane tasks such as carrying our own grocery and shopping bags can help tremendously as it is also a form of weight training exercise.

But be careful while carrying heavy bags. You can also sustain injuries by carrying too many such heavy bags. It's common to experience rotator cuff injuries. If it's a small rotator cuff tear it can be managed with physiotherapy, but if it's a large tear people may need surgery.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint keeping the head of the upper arm bone in place.The injury can cause a dull ache in the shoulder which can become worse when you try to sleep on your side. [Source]

Carrying heavy shopping bags the right way without any injury

Stephen Bourke from Hinchinbrook Physiotherapy suggests buying more bags to distribute the weight evenly and to prevent carrying too much at once.

Here are some tips to carry heavy load with ease and without injuring yourself:
  • Carry not more than 15% of your body weight. Anything heavier than that can alter your posture and can lead to longer term spinal problems.
  • Place heavier objects at the bottom.
  • Two strap bags are better than one strapped ones. neck, Try using a bag that has two straps instead of one to help correct posture and more evenly distribute weight. If one-strapping is the only option, try to periodically swap sides. I can completely attest to this. I have found that a shoulder bag with 2 straps is far easier to carry than the one with a single strap. This works for handbags as well.
  • When packing a bag, try to distribute the weight evenly to avoid postural stress.
  • Keeping the bags close to the body also helps as it reduces the amount of sway and stress placed on the spinal muscles.


Easy weight bearing and muscle strengthening exercises

Physiotherapists maintain that incorporating weight bearing and resistance training exercises in old age can help avoid falls and other forms of ill health. Even activities such as carrying small children, heavy gardening, brisk vacuuming or climbing several flights of stairs all help build bone density.

Some weight bearing exercises that make you move against gravity while staying upright can be classified as high-impact and low impact. High impact ones are dancing, high impact aerobics, jumping rope, hiking etc. while examples of low impact ones are using elliptical training machines,  doing low-impact aerobics, using stair-step machines, fast walking on a treadmill or outside etc.

Those who are already have an onset of osteoporosis and those with a risk of fractures should not attempt high-impact exercises but should go for low-impact ones and that too under the guidance of a physiotherapist.
women doing push ups, jumping rope, kettle bell, dancing

Also some easy workouts such as standing and rising on your toes, lifting your own body weight with exercises like push-ups or squats and and using equipment such as elastic exercise bands, free weights, weight machines etc. can also help.

Yoga and Pilates can also improve strength, balance and flexibility. However, certain positions may not deemed safe for people with osteoporosis or those at increased risk of broken bones. Some have forward bends which are touted to be unsafe and may increase the chance of breaking a bone in the spine. A physical therapist should be able to help you learn which exercises are safe and appropriate for you. [Sources:1, 2 ]

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Final Word

So it makes sense for women, who especially have the highest risk for osteoporosis than men to keep their strength up by doing a few easy resistance training and weight bearing exercises.

Even by doing simple things such as gardening, carrying bags or vacuuming will give them strong muscles and make them fitter and help them to live independent, healthier lives for longer.

So do you carry heavy shopping bags and are you doing it the right way? Did you know the benefits or carrying heavy bags? Did you ever try strength training exercises? If yes, did you feel strength building up over a period of time after incorporating it in your regular routine? Do share in the comments.

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