Eat less; move more; live longer is the mantra of this blog. Part of moving more includes weight-bearing exercise. Turns out our bones need to be worked, too. Not just our muscles.
Harvard Healthbeat says, “Regular physical activity promotes general good health, reduces the risk of developing many diseases, and helps you live a longer and healthier life. For many of us, “exercise” means walking, jogging, treadmill work, or other activities that get the heart pumping.
“But often overlooked is the value of strength-building exercises. Once you reach your 50s and beyond, strength (or resistance) training is critical to preserving the ability to perform the most ordinary activities of daily living — and to maintain an active and independent lifestyle.
“The average 30-year-old will lose about a quarter of his or her muscle strength by age 70 and half of it by age 90. “Just doing aerobic exercise is not adequate,” says Dr. Robert Schreiber, physician-in-chief at Hebrew SeniorLife and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Unless you are doing strength training, you will become weaker and less functional.”
What is strength training?
Strength training encompasses any of the following:
• Free weights, such as barbells and dumbbells
• Ankle cuffs and vests containing different amounts of weight
• Resistance (elastic) bands of varying length and tension that you flex using your arms and legs
• Exercises that use your body weight to create resistance against gravity.
How much do you need?
“A beginner’s strength-building workout takes as little as 20 minutes, and you won’t need to grunt, strain, or sweat like a cartoon bodybuilder, either. The key is developing a well-rounded program, performing the exercises with good form, and being consistent. You will experience noticeable gains in strength within four to eight weeks.
“Buying your own equipment is one option. Sets of basic introductory-weight dumbbells cost $50-$100. Health clubs offer the most equipment choices, but of course, you have to pay monthly fees. Books and videos can help you learn some basic moves and start developing a routine. Many senior centers and adult education programs offer strength training classes, as well.
“However you start, go slow so you don’t injure yourself. Discuss your new exercise plan with your doctor and explain the level of workout you expect to achieve. Mild to moderate muscle soreness between workouts is normal, but back off if it persists more than a few days.
“Most of us know that strength training (with free weights, weight machines, or resistance bands) can help build and maintain muscle mass and strength. What many of us don’t know is that strong muscles lead to strong bones. And strong bones can help minimize the risk of fracture due to osteoporosis.
“A combination of age-related changes, inactivity, and inadequate nutrition conspire to gradually steal bone mass, at the rate of 1% per year after age 40. As bones grow more fragile and susceptible to fracture, they are more likely to break after even a minor fall or a far less obvious stress, such as bending over to tie a shoelace.
“Osteoporosis should be a concern for all of us. An estimated eight million women and two million men in the United States have osteoporosis. It is now responsible for more than two million fractures each year, and experts expect that number will rise. Hip fractures are usually the most serious. Six out of 10 people who break a hip never fully regain their former level of independence. Even walking across a room without help may become impossible.
“Numerous studies have shown that strength training can play a role in slowing bone loss, and several show it can even build bone. This is tremendously useful to help offset age-related declines in bone mass. Activities that put stress on bones can nudge bone-forming cells into action. That stress comes from the tugging and pushing on bone that occur during strength training (as well as weight-bearing aerobic exercises like walking or running). The result is stronger, denser bones.
“And strength training, in particular, has bone benefits beyond those offered by aerobic weight-bearing exercise. It targets bones of the hips, spine, and wrists, which are the sites most likely to fracture. What’s more, resistance workouts — particularly those that include moves emphasizing power and balance — enhance strength and stability. That can boost confidence, encourage you to stay active, and reduce fractures another way — by cutting down on falls.”
For more information on the benefits of strength training, check out Strength and Power Training, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.