The Relationship Between Strength Training and Bone Density
Dr. Mitchell W. Krucoff, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.H.A, F.S.C.A.I. — Professor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center
Numerous studies reveal that without resistance exercises to strengthen bones, most people face a mid-life 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 fractures, the primary reason older people wind up in nursing facilities.
Dr. Mitchell concludes, “Bone-thinning osteoporosis can lead to fractures, especially bones of the hip, a major medical problem for seniors. 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 broken bones by strengthening the leg muscles, contributing to improved balance and decreasing the likelihood of falls, the cause of most fractures in the elderly.”
The University of Arizona B.E.S.T. Study of Bone Density
The B.E.S.T. Study (Bone Estrogen Strength Training) was conducted by the University of Arizona and is considered to be a seminal study in osteoporosis. The study looked at 266 sedentary postmenopausal women, ages 44-66, all in relatively good health. The subjects were all nonsmokers. About half of them were on hormone replacement therapy, the others were not. Every participant took a daily calcium supplement – making an equal playing field. The subjects’ bone density was measured prior to the test using the Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test.
Participants in the BEST study were divided into two groups, half taking hormone replacement therapy and half not. The object of the study was to determine what effect weight-bearing exercise had on bone mineral density (BMD) when the only variable was exercise. So one group on each team (those taking hormones, and those not) undertook a strength-training program, while the others had no regular strength training at all.
Exercisers performed supervised aerobic, weight-bearing, and weight-lifting exercises, three times per week in community-based exercise facilities. To encourage and maintain interest in exercise for one year, the women in the strength-training group participated in social support programs resulting in a high level of adherence.
The findings were startling. The participants in both groups who exercised – whether they were taking hormones or not – had markedly improved bone density in their hips and low backs, the areas of focus for the study. Among non-exercisers, the hormone-taking group showed only a slight increase in bone density while the other group showed no improvement at all – or, even worse, showed a decrease in bone density.
The study powerfully showed that a dramatic increase in bone density and strength can occur with regular, weight-bearing exercises.
Harvard University Medical School Study on Osteoporosis
The Harvard Study was focused on the relationship between calcium supplements and bone density. The study surprisingly produced an even stronger finding for preventing and reversing the loss of Bone Mineral Density (BMD). The study concludes, “Physical activity that puts some strain or stress on bones causes the bones to retain and possibly even gain density throughout life. Cells within the bone sense this stress and respond by making the bone stronger and denser. Such ‘weight-bearing’ exercises include walking, dancing, jogging, weightlifting, stair-climbing, and hiking.” Weight-Bearing exercises are shown to be just as important as proper calcium intake for the treatment or prevention of Osteoporosis.
Simple Exercises With A Weighted Vest
Dr. Robert Klapper, M.D. – Director of Orthopedic Surgery, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles
After performing thousands of surgeries for bone and joint related issues, Dr. Klapper is an ardent supporter of prevention. “Walking is an exercise to benefit the joints and to MAXIMIZE those benefits, include a little extra weight.” Walking has always been seen as an excellent exercise, but Dr. Klapper explains further, “…there are additional benefits to walking aside from losing weight and strengthening the heart – walking with weight is good for your bones. Walking while wearing a weighted vest is a holistic, low-impact solution that will help keep calcium in the bones.”