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Bone density sharply enhanced by weight training, even in the elderly

Saturday, August 06, 2005 by: Dani Veracity

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As people reach old age, osteoporosis is a major determining factor in quality of life. In Healing Moves, Dr. Mitchell and Carol Krucoff write, "Age-related declines in muscle and bone mass … can lead to frailty and fracture -- the primary reason older adults wind up in nursing homes." If you don't want to spend your later years resting in a nursing home, losing your independence and draining your or your family's financial resources, you need to do something to remain independent. According to numerous studies and aging manuals, that "something" is strength training, an activity known to increase bone mass and thus decrease the possibility of osteoporosis.

Postmenopausal women are especially prone to osteoporosis because they lack estrogen. Most women know this and begin to take calcium supplements to ward off the debilitating disease. Calcium supplements are important, but according to Kathy Keeton's book, Longevity, they are not enough. Not only does your body need magnesium and other nutrients to assimilate calcium into your bones, it also needs strength training to retain calcium. Keeton quotes nutritional biochemist Dr. Neil S. Orenstein: "Without consideration of these effects, no amount of calcium supplementation will prevent osteoporosis."

Numerous studies demonstrate strength training's ability to increase bone mass, especially spinal bone mass. According to Keeton, a research study by Ontario's McMaster University found that a year-long strength training program increased the spinal bone mass of postmenopausal women by nine percent. Furthermore, women who do not participate in strength training actually experience a decrease in bone density.

In Prescription Alternatives, Professor Earl Mindell and Virginia Hopkins detail these findings: "In a recent study on bone density and exercise, older women who did high-intensity weight training two days per week for a year were able to increase their bone density by one percent, while a control group of women who did not exercise had a bone density decrease of 1.8 to 2.5 percent. The women who exercised also had improved muscle strength and better balance, while both decreased in the non-exercising group."

Increased bone density, improved muscle strength, better balance -- these three things will dramatically improve your later years and increase your longevity. Only these health improvements can help prevent a bad fall, which is often a turning point in an elderly person's life. One bad spill can result in a broken hip, an injury that can lead to an elderly person's immobility and dependence on others. Only strength training can provide these benefits, but what exactly does "strength training" or "weight training" mean?

A little training goes a long way

Strength training does not mean that you have to train for the Olympics or tediously do the same exercise over and over. According to Healing Moves, a variety of exercises will yield bone-building benefits: "Physical impact and weight-bearing exercise stimulates bone formation. Just as a muscle gets stronger and bigger the more you use it, a bone becomes stronger and denser when you regularly place demands upon it.

The best bone builders are exercises that put force on the bone, such as weight-bearing activities like running and resistance exercises like strength training. In general, the greater the impact involved, the more it strengthens the bones." However, it is important to distinguish the exercises that will increase bone density from the ones that will not. "Weight lifting, including curls and bench presses, is a beneficial activity … Dancing, stair-climbing and brisk walking are all weight-bearing exercises, which promote (good) mechanical stress in the skeletal system, contributing to the placement of calcium in bones. Aerobic exercises such as biking, rowing and swimming do not strengthen the bones," writes Gary Null in Power Aging.

Now, aerobic exercise is great for your cardiovascular system, so you still should do it along with strength training. You don't have to devote a lot of time to strength training to experience the benefits. Null believes that only 15 to 30 minutes of weight training, two to three times per week, can provide you with the bone density you need to prevent osteoporosis. Just make sure that you work all your different muscle groups and allow a 24-hour lapse between sessions.

For best results, women should start strength training long before menopause; however, women can experience the benefits at any age. "A 1994 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that women as old as 70 who lifted weights twice a week for a year avoided the expected loss of bone and even increased their bone density slightly," writes Robert Haas in Permanent Remissions. According to Dr. George Kessler's Bone Density Program, "One study of people in their 80s and 90s living in nursing homes who exercised with weight machines three times a week for just eight weeks showed improvements in strength, balance and walking speed." It's never too late to lift just a few light weights and increase your bone density.

The experts speak on strength training and bone density:

Without resistance exercises to strengthen muscles and bones, most people face a midlife slide into flabbiness and its associated ills. And as we age, strength training becomes even more important to offset age-related declines in muscle and bone mass that can lead to frailty and fracture— the primary reason older adults wind up in nursing homes.
Healing Moves by Carol Krucoff and Mitchell Krucoff MD, page 144

Osteoporosis. Bone-thinning osteoporosis can lead to fractures, especially hip fractures, a major medical problem for the elderly. One way to maintain strong, healthy bones is to get plenty of calcium. Certain kinds of exercise, including strength training, also help keep bones healthy. In addition, weight training helps prevent fractures by strengthening the leg muscles, contributing to improved balance and decreasing the likelihood of falls, the cause of most fractures in the elderly.
Natures Cures by Michael Castleman, page 452

Because nine out of 10 hip fractures result from falls, engaging in activities that increase strength and balance helps decrease the risk. strength training is one of the best ways to increase bone density in the spine naturally and prevent falls.
Overdosed America by John Abramson MD, page 219

Postmenopausal women are at the greatest risk for brittle bones

Men also can have brittle bones, but women — especially thin women who are past menopause — are at greater risk. If you're thin, you have less weight bearing down on your bones during normal activity, and that means your bones will weaken faster. It's particularly important for you to start a regular program of weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, or strength training. Studies have found gardening is also good at pumping up your bones so if you enjoy that activity, keep it up. The fresh air and sunshine are an added bonus.
Eat and Heal by the Editors of FC&A Medical Publishing, page 278

Calcium suplements are not enough

Simply increasing your calcium intake doesn't guarantee that the calcium is going to get into your bones. To properly absorb calcium the body needs other nutrients as well—magnesium, for one, and other vitamins. Exercise, particularly weight training, helps the bone retain its calcium. "Without consideration of these effects," says the nutritional biochemist Dr. Neil S. Orenstein of Lenox, Massachusetts, "no amount of calcium supplementation will prevent osteoporosis."
Longevity by Kathy Keeton, page 120

Numerous studies demonstrate strength training's ability to increase bone mass, especially spinal bone mass

There's even some evidence that increasing muscle mass can increase bone mass. When researchers at McMaster University in Ontario put a group of postmenopausal women on a year-long program of anaerobic strength training, not only did their muscle size increase by 20 percent, but their spinal bone mass rose by 9 percent. It's possible, then, that strength training might help ward off osteoporosis.
Longevity by Kathy Keeton, page 160

In a recent study on bone density and exercise, older women who did high-intensity weight training two days per week for a year were able to increase their bone density by 1.0 percent, while a control group of women who did not exercise had a bone density decrease of 1.8 to 2.5 percent. The women who exercised also had improved muscle strength and better balance, while both decreased in the nonexercising control group.
Prescription Alternatives by Earl Mindell RPh PhD and Virginia Hopkins MA, page 20

We know that weight lifters have much denser bones in their back and legs than do runners, for example. Studies do show that walking prevents bone loss in the spine, but strength training has been proved to build bone mass in the spine and hip. One study that (deservedly) got a lot of media attention followed a group of postmenopausal women who were generally healthy—but sedentary. None were taking HRT, or any other bone-related medicines, or taking calcium supplements. Half performed a simple weight-lifting routine twice a week, while the other half stuck with their couch potato ways. After one year, the weight lifters built their bone mass 1 percent on average, at both the hip and spine. That compares favorably to what you'd see with HRT alone. To give you perspective, consider this: the women who did not lift weights lost up to 2.5 percent of their bone mass over the same time period— and also lost muscle mass and gained body fat and weight. The weight lifters became much more active in general (as the researchers calculated it, a 27 percent increase), while the sedentary group became less active. The weight lifters lowered their body fat, gained muscle, and had better balance and more strength. And here's a wonderful bonus: the researchers had the daughters of the women who lifted weights come in and do the tests their mothers were acing. In every case, the weight-lifting women outperformed their own daughters!
The Bone Density Program George Kessler DO PC, page 279 and 280

A Journal of the American Medical Association article reported a Tufts University study in which forty postmenopausal women. 50 to 70 years of age, were tested and measured by their participation in different levels of exercise. The conclusion of this study was that high intensity strength training exercises are an important, effective and feasible means to preserve bone density. In other words, exercise prevented the onset of osteoporosis.
Milk The Deadly Poison by Robert Cohen, page 268

Still, we were confident that Ramona could do even better, so we told her to work harder and to try some strength training as well. When Ramona came back to see us one year later, her bone density was 10 percent higher. And she had become a fanatic about strength training, working out four times a week.
Ultraprevention by Mark Hyman MD and Mark Liponis MD, page 102

Strength training does not mean that you have to train for the Olympics or tediously do the same exercise over and over: A wide variety of weight-bearing exercises yields bone-building results

Physical impact and weight-bearing exercise stimulates bone formation. Just as a muscle gets stronger and bigger the more you use it, a bone becomes stronger and denser when you regularly place demands upon it. The best bone builders are exercises that put force on the bone, such as weight-bearing activities like running and resistance exercises like strength training. In general, the greater the impact involved in an activity, the more it strengthens the bones. That's why the bones in the racket arms of tennis players are denser than the bones in their nondominant arms. When muscles and gravity aren't pulling on the bone, humans can lose bone mass rapidly. This is dramatically illustrated when people are forced by injury or ill health to undergo complete bed rest and, as a result, lose about 1 percent of their bone mass per week. This is similar to the devastating effects on bone mass seen in young, healthy male astronauts in outer space, due to the loss of gravity.
Healing Moves by Carol Krucoff and Mitchell Krucoff MD, page 144

Exercise for Skeletal Health. Weight-bearing exercises are very important to help avoid osteoporosis. Weight lifting, including curls and bench presses, is a beneficial activity. Women should not resist going to gyms as they age. But even if you don't go to a gym, you can still profit from taking a little one-pound weight and curling it throughout the day. In fact, you can take a five-minute break every hour to do exercises. Dancing, stair-climbing, and brisk walking are all weight-bearing exercises, which promote mechanical stress in the skeletal system, contributing to the placement of calcium in the bones. Aerobic exercises such as biking, rowing, and swimming do not strengthen the bones.
Power Aging by Gary Null, page 363

Not only is weight training safe, it is important for preventing osteoporosis. As muscles are pulled directly against the bone, with gravity working against it, calcium is driven back into the bones. It also stimulates the manufacture of new bone. This adds up to a decrease in the effects of osteoporosis by 50—80 percent. Women need to do weight training two to three times per week for fifteen to thirty minutes. All the different muscle groups should be worked on. Twenty-four hours should lapse between sessions to rest muscles. For best results, an exercise program should be started long before the onset of menopause.
Womans Encyclopedia Of Natural Healing by Dr Gary Null, page 277

Walking may be the best all-around exercise, but as far as bone building goes, strength training is the cream of the crop. The pull of muscle against bone stresses a bone, and that kind of stress is what makes a bone become stronger. Impact also strengthens a bone, but the impact that comes from running or jumping, say, can be otherwise harmful to the body. Muscle working against gravity provides another kind of impact for the bones, stimulating bone formation and slowing loss. Strength training with free weights (including light hand and ankle weights) or weight machines is the most direct way to provide that stress and impact of muscle on bone, which is what makes it ideal for building and preserving bone density.
The Bone Density Program George Kessler DO PC, page 279

Since stronger muscles do a better job of holding joints in their proper places, resistance training can lessen the joint wear and tear associated with osteoarthritis, the type of arthritis that most often afflicts older adults. What's more, studies find, weight training can strengthen your bones, offering added insurance against osteoporosis. That's because your bones and muscles are intimately connected. When you work your muscles against resistance, they pull on the bones they're attached to. In medical lingo, your muscles exert stress on your bones, and your bones, under stress, respond by laying down more calcium to reinforce themselves, explains Dr. Ades.
Healing with motion by the editors of-Prevention health books, page 332

Not only is weight training safe, it is important for preventing osteoporosis. As muscles are pulled directly against the bone, with gravity working against it, calcium is driven back into the bones. It also stimulates the manufacture of new bone. This adds up to a decrease in the effects of osteoporosis by 50 to 80 percent. People need to do weight training two to three times per week...
Get Healthy Now by Gary Null, page 15

Do strength-building exercises, such as weight lifting, three times a week for at least ten minutes. This is particularly important for women, since it helps maintain bone density.
The Real Age Diet by Michael F Roizen MD and John La Puma MD, page 39

Strength training is also one of the proven ways to reduce the risks associated with osteoporosis, because strong muscles can support the bones more effectively. Strength training also slows the aging process, improves posture and balance, and increases energy, strength, and stamina.
Active Wellness By Gayle Reichler MS RD CDN, page 151

Almost any type of vigorous exercise will maintain or build bone. Dr. Lee recommends walking, biking, tennis, or weight lifting.
Alternative Cures by Bill Gottlieb, page 473

The physical stresses to which bones are subjected during exercise stimulate new bone growth. Get at least 30 minutes of walking, weight lifting or another weight-bearing exercise, three times a week.
Bottom Line Yearbook 2002 by Bottom Line Personnel, page 18

Exercises that put stress on your bones, such as jogging and weight training (even light weights), will also strengthen your bones, whereas exercises that do not stress your bones, such as swimming, will not improve bone strength.
Complementary Cancer Therapies by Dan Labriola ND, page 198

For best results, women should start strength training long before menopause; however, women can experience the benefits at any age.

Extensive research has shown that muscles and bones will get stronger in response to strength training regardless of your age. Some health experts call strength training "the closest we've come to a fountain of youth."
Healing Moves by Carol Krucoff and Mitchell Krucoff MD, page 144

Aerobic exercise has long been touted as a way to prevent or slow bone loss, but researchers increasingly emphasize the benefits of strength training, such as weight lifting, to prevent bone loss at any age. A 1994 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that women as old as 70 who lifted weights twice a week for a year avoided the expected loss of bone and even increased their bone density slightly.
Permanent Remissions by Robert Haas MS, page 205

One study of people in their 80s and 90s living in nursing homes who exercised with weight machines three times a week for just eight weeks showed improvements in strength, balance, and walking speed. Even people who are already frail can, with proper exercise using light weights, build up enough leg strength to walk without a cane. I've no doubt of the bone benefits that went along with these results, even though they weren't tracked by the researchers.
The Bone Density Program George Kessler DO PC, page 281

Strengthening exercises such as weight training are as important as calcium for strong bones, and they can be started at any age. Even someone age 80 or older can be helped by weight training or isometrics—a form of exercise that involves contracting and releasing specific muscles. Your hospital, community recreation center, or senior center is likely to have more information on this exercise technique.
The Herbal Drugstore by Linda B White MD, page 442

The more bone you build early in life, the better you will be able to withstand the bone loss that starts to occur by about age 35. Years later, the loss of bone mass can result in the debilitating disease called osteoporosis. To develop bone mass, you need to make weight-bearing exercise part of your daily life—with activities like walking, running, and weight lifting.
Wellness Self-Care Handbook by John Edward Swartzberg MD FACP and Sheldon Margen MD, page 41

Weight lifting is not just for the young. Gerontologists and others who study aging now know that muscles built when you are 40, 50 and 60 can help more than just your self-esteem. Developed leg, trunk and arm muscles help protect older bodies from injuries related to frailty. These muscles help keep bones, which peak in density between ages 21 and 30, stronger longer.
Uncommon Cures for Everyday Ailments by the editors of Bottom Line Health, page 112

As with every other strategy in this book, it is never too late to benefit from strength training. You know you should be getting 30 minutes of weight-bearing aerobic exercise three times a week. Strength training is a valuable addition because we know it builds bone more directly and efficiently than any other kind of exercise you can do.
The Bone Density Program George Kessler DO PC, page 293

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