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 World 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.