Strength Training May Improve Bone Density in Seniors

pair of black dumbbells

Bones are mainly built during childhood and adolescence, but those building blocks of the body must be routinely maintained throughout life in order to keep a healthy body frame and avoid losing bone mass. Many older women and men experience a decrease in bone density with resulting osteoporosis as they age unless they take active steps to help prevent bone loss.

According to the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center’s article “Osteoporosis Handout on Health,” last reviewed in January 2011, over 40 million Americans are considered high risk for low bone mass. Many older adults are at particular risk for lower bone density and related complications due to a variety of reasons, such as:

  • A diet with inadequate calcium and vitamin D
  • A less active or sedentary lifestyle (those on bedrest have additional risks)
  • Use of certain medications that have a side effect of negatively affecting bone density
  • Low estrogen levels in women (not all women opt for hormone replacement therapy after menopause)
  • Smoking

One of the most serious complications of poor bone health is the increased risk for fractures or broken bones. A senior who experiences a broken hip, for example, often faces many hurdles, including but not limited to a possible loss of independence, financial issues, and perhaps a permanent disability or even death. The good news is that a senior may be able to maintain healthier bones through a simple and sensible exercise program that incorporates resistance training as approved by his or her healthcare provider.

Exercise May be the Ticket to Better Bone Health for Older Adults

Strength training, also known as resistance training or weight lifting, has been proven to be beneficial to many seniors. According to a National Institute of Health February 27, 2009, article entitled “Strength Training Preserves the bone mineral density of postmenopausal women without hormone replacement therapy,” regular strength training over 24 weeks resulted in less mineral loss in the spine and neck and produced several additional measurable benefits, including:

  • Decreased body weight
  • Lowered body mass index
  • Less body fat

Fortunately, strength training can be achieved in simple ways, such as using hand weights or even items of a similar weight around the house. Cost options vary widely, and some seniors may find that they qualify for discounted or even free memberships to a gym if they wish to explore that option. A healthcare provider should be able to give recommendations that would take into consideration specific health concerns and needs.

Options for Weight Training for Seniors

Many seniors seek to maintain or improve their bone health by participating in weight training programs that fit well with their lifestyles, such as:

  • Self-directed strength training at home
  • Use of weights in a gym in a self-directed fashion, with a group, or with a personal trainer
  • Participation in a group exercise program that incorporates strength training.

Some seniors might be concerned about developing large muscles, gaining weight, or be skeptical of weight machines in a gym. Fortunately, weight training programs can be adjusted to individual needs and desires, and gyms are equipped with professionals who can help people learn how to safely use equipment that is unfamiliar. Trained exercise instructors may offer a variety of movements with modifications for special needs.

Lifting Weights May Help Seniors Maintain Healthier Bones

Perhaps people might be a bit surprised to see Granny with hand weights or Granddad lifting in the gym – but these seniors may see the wisdom of investing in their bone health as they make positive steps to stay fit and active. Although bone density tends to decrease with age and especially after menopause, the good news is that studies have shown that resistance training on a regular basis may lead to better bone health. Exercise, particularly strength training on a regular basis, may help seniors maintain bone density, which can help older adults avoid serious complications related to osteoporosis.

Sources

  • enters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) article “Growing Stronger – Strength Training for Older Adults”
  • National Institute of Health (NIH) article “Osteoporosis Handout on Health”
  • National Institute of Health (NIH) article “Strength training preserves the bone mineral density of postmenopausal women without hormone replacement therapy”
  • National Institute of Health (NIH) article “Osteoporosis: Peak Bone Mass in Women”
  • American College of Sports Medicine news release “Strength Training Increases Bone Mineral Density in Postmenopausal Women”

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

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