Many of us associate strength training with weight lifting muscle builders working on their six-packs. This stereotype, however, ignores the overall health benefits of strength training. When done over a long period of time, strength training can help prevent multiple chronic illnesses, including osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis, which causes a decrease in bone mass and an increase in the rate of fracture, or bone breakage, affects about 8 million women and 2 million men in the United States. One in two women and one in four men will have an osteoporosis-related bone fracture in their lifetime. When this fracture is in the hip, only 15 percent of patients will be able to walk across a room unaided 6 months after the fracture. Twenty-four percent of those age 50 and over will die within a year.
How can strength training help? Whenever we put stress on our muscles, we also put stress on our bones. This stress can help stimulate our bone cells. Research has shown that this stimulation can help prevent bone loss and, in some cases, lead to its reversal. This helps keep the bones stronger and less likely to fracture. The increase in muscle strength has the added bonus of helping us maintain our balance, which helps prevent falls that can cause fractures.
The risk of osteoporosis increases with age, as most people lose about 1% of their bone mass a year after the age of 40.
It’s never too late to begin some form of strength training. (Those with health conditions or those over 40 should consult their healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program.)
Strength training involves lifting weights or using the weight of your own body to put stress on your muscles. Examples include planks, squats, lunges, push-ups, etc. There are many free online resources that offer instruction on how to do these and other strength training exercises. The equipment required is simple and inexpensive. Exercises can be done using a resistance band or even a towel. The exercises can be done almost anywhere. Two or three times a week is enough, with a day of rest between each day of strength training.
Don’t expect to get big results in a short time. Bones are slow to change. However, if the 1% of average bone loss a year after age 40 is prevented, at the end of 10 years the bones will be significantly stronger than they would have been. One of the major effects of old age will be remarkably better.