Everyone knows that exercise is an important component of staying healthy, but the importance of strength training is often overlooked. Training with weights or other resistance is important for many reasons; building muscle mass helps to prevent certain injuries, control weight, and build stamina. But resistance training has another very important goal: developing strong bones.
A rising health concern in America is osteoporosis, or low bone mineral density (BMD). BMD is a critical factor in bone strength, and a low BMD places you at a significantly higher risk of fracture as you age. Bone mass increases throughout childhood and 90% of peak bone mass is achieved by age 18 for women and age 20 for men. Around age 40, bone mass starts to decrease and continues to decrease every year for the rest of our lives, usually at a faster rate in women than in men. Since fractures such as hip and spine fractures can have a major impact on quality of life as we age, and can even cause death in certain cases, it is imperative to maximize bone mass throughout our lives to help avoid these scenarios. The problem with osteoporosis is that most people don’t start to worry about it until it’s too late. If you are diagnosed with low BMD at age 65, there may be no way to regain enough bone mass to avoid fractures. Newer medications may be able to slow or halt the loss of bone mass, but building new bone after age 40 is difficult.
The easiest and most effective way to build bone mass is with strength or resistance exercise. As bone is stressed with resistance exercise, the body’s response is to stimulate bone cells to create new bone, making the bones denser and stronger. This response only occurs in the local area where the bone is stressed, so it is important to incorporate all muscle groups in strength training. It was once thought that strength training was a bad idea in growing children for fear of damaging the growth plates in developing bones, but more recent studies have shown that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Since most of our bone mass accrues during childhood, strength training for children helps to maximize BMD so that there is a much greater reserve for later in life when the inevitable losses begin.
Continued strength training after adulthood helps to maintain the bone mass and density that is present, and slows the losses of bone in the elderly. The increased muscle strength and balance derived from resistance training can help to prevent falls as well, which in turn decreases fracture risk even further.
I urge you not to forget about strength training as a part of a balanced exercise regimen. Your bones will thank you later.