Strength Training for Healthy Bones

Lifting weights isn’t just about big bulging muscles; in fact that needn’t be a byproduct at all. This activity also promotes bone density, a crucial element to healthy living as we age and become more vulnerable to falls. 

Earlier this year an elderly, close relative fell in the bathroom and fractured his hip. Encouraging him to stay active, positive and incentivised became a key tactic in promoting his wellness. I’m relieved to say he’s now enjoying family, mahjong and each and every Manchester United game, now that the new Premier League season is underway.

The older we are the harder it is to recuperate from such injuries. Inactivity sees the musculature degenerate and with that comes a loss of appetite, independence and mental wellness, signalling a spiral of health issues that can be hard to reverse. It’s not surprising then that studies have shown an increase in the number of deaths in the year following a fracture.

According to Health Hub, the Ministry of Health’s online resource, about one-third of adults here, aged 60 and above, have fallen more than once. Injuries such as hip fractures are common, especially among women, who have an 18 per cent risk of suffering a hip fracture in their lifetime. This risk is about one-third as high for men, at 6 per cent.

The majority of these falls happen in the home, which means we’re all at one point or another likely to be exposed to these risks the older we get.

Health Hub lists poor muscle tone and strength as a key reason for falls among the elderly population. Weight and resistance training into our senior years might therefore appear obvious ways to counter one of the leading causes of falls, but there’s an added advantage that provides significant protection, even if you do end up taking a tumble.

WebMD reports studies which show that strength training over a period of time can not only help prevent bone loss, but may even help build new bone. 

You can assess your personal health here by taking a bone density test, which is an x-ray that determines the amount of calcium and other minerals in bones. This is also important in diagnosing osteoporosis. Often, people don’t realise that they have brittle bones until they have fallen and broken one. The risk of osteoporosis increases with age, especially in post-menopausal women. But a lack of calcium at any age can also increase the risk of brittle bones. 

DXA scans (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) are comprehensive tests that focus on the hips and spine. During the test, the patient lies down fully clothed, while a mechanical arm passes above, emitting low-dose X-rays through the body for about 10 minutes. 

The results generate a score. If you register in the +1 to -1 range you’re in good shape. A score of -1 to -2.5 means you have low bone density, while anything below 2.5 indicates osteoporosis.

But if your score is less than desirable there is a way back, even if you’re in the sub-2.5 zone. WebMD however cautions on the need to have realistic expectations, quoting Dr Felicia Cosman, medical director of the Clinical Research Center at Helen Hayes Hospital in New York: “Time and time again, I’ll recommend weight training to patients and they come back expecting to see big changes in bone density in a year or two,” she said.

“That’s not realistic. You’re helping to prevent bone loss, and the changes may be relatively small per year,” she says. “But if you persist with your weight training, even a 1% change in bone density every year adds up to a 10% difference after ten years. … That’s a lot of bone.”

There’s no single bone density routine that will fit everyone’s needs but a consultation with your doctor will help establish what might be right for you. This would be based on what Web MD identifies as key variables in your fracture risk, muscle strength, range of motion, fitness, gait and balance.

If your bones are assessed as healthy, active older adults are advised by the UK’s National Health Service to use weights and resistance bands as part of your exercise routine, while impact activities like running and skipping will also be a boost.

But if you do have concerns about your bone health, bone density tests can help you curate the most appropriate ways of maintaining and improving things. And if osteoporosis is a factor, your specialist can, together with a personal trainer, develop more tailored exercises for you. My advice is don’t leave it so late; start building bone density now. The Gym Pod has plenty of tools that can aid you in doing that.
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