Researchers are set to test whether wearing a weighted vest can help older adults prevent bone loss when participating in an obesity weight-loss program.

Using a $2.9 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, investigators from Wake Forest University will compare bone health outcomes in participants who wear weighted vests to outcomes in adult who participate in strength training. 

The vest weighs two pounds initially and can be worn under clothes. As participants lose weight, equal weight will be added to the vest in two-ounce increments. In a pilot study, people who wore the vest ten hours per day reduced hip bone loss dramatically, said Kristen Beavers, Ph.D., principal investigator.

Bones respond to extra load and will grow when people put on pounds. Unfortunately, they can also lose density when weight is lost, and do not necessarily regrow – even if the weight is regained. This puts older adults who lose large amounts of weight at risk of osteoporosis or osteopenia, the researchers explained.

Resistance training, shown to build bone and muscle mass, is a possible solution to the problem. But training is not a practical option for everyone, added Beavers.

“I would love it if people would do regular resistance training, but they just don’t,” Beavers explained. “This is a more passive, but potentially as effective, alternative.”

Interventions begin in the spring of 2020 and the study runs through April 2024.