Osteoporosis and Weight Training

It has been a long-held perception that as we age we need to be more careful and not “overdo it.” While it is true that older adults should take appropriate caution with physical activities, research overhwelmingly shows that being active–including weight training–is associated with better health outcomes. Sometimes it happens in unexpected and surprising ways.

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones bones become weak and brittle; this condition is especially prevalent in older women. Under normal circumstances the cells in our bodies are constantly dying and being regenerated; this includes our bones. Osteoporosis occurs when bone tissue is reabsorbed into our bodies at a faster rate than it is replaced. The bones (osteo) become porous (porosis) as shown in the picture above. They become especially susceptible to fracture.

How can it be treated? Proper diet and medications are effective, but so is weight training. Wait! What? We are going to ask people with brittle bones to lift dumbbells?!?! As a matter of fact, this is a great way to strengthen bones. Our bodies respond to stimuli according to the SAID principle. SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. What this means is that when we make our bodies act in a certain way, it will change physiologically to accomodate those new requirements. As an example, postal workers who have a walking route (as opposed to sitting in the mail truck) often have stronger legs and amazing calves. Likewise, folks whose work requires them to do heavy lifting of packages will develop larger arm, shoulder, and back muscles. Their bodies have adapted specifically to the demands opposed on them.

How does this work with Osteoporosis? When we train with weights, our bones get the message that they need to work harder and get stronger; the bones respond by creating new tissue at a faster rate. Lower body bones can also be strengthened by weight-bearing exercises like walking.

Is this dangerous? Like any physical activity, there are always risks. Those with Osteoporosis should be aware of their surroundings to avoid injuries and falls which can result in broken bones. They should also avoid high impact activities like jumping or those that require jerky or sudden movements. Otherwise, there are few restrictions with regard to just how heavy those weights can be.

It seems somewhat counterintuitive to put stress on brittle bones but, in fact, it is one of the best things to do for Osteoporosis. As always, consult a healthcare professional before embarking on any new fitness regimen, and let your fitness professional know of any conditions that might impact your health and safety. Otherwise, do not be afraid to pick up those weights; your bones will thank you!

Another reason why Seniors should be Weight Training

In all my courses, we have been taught that working out–and especially weight training–is good for individuals at any age. Current trends are aimed at getting the 50+ crowd to understand the importance of resistance work along with cardio exercise.

I am currently recovering from foot surgery and will be unable to walk for four weeks. I have a scooter and crutches; they are tools, but they cannot perform all the functions necessary to get around. Thank goodness I have been working on building muscle strength over the years. I have found that I can balance on one foot for a while (thanks yoga!), push and pull myself up, hop around my car to get to the scooter in the trunk. It is the difference between having some independence and none at all.

This is an argument that should be made to seniors. Weight training isn’t necessarily about have a killer beach body; we need the strength to help us navigate the Activities of Daily Living. And when we do find ourselves with an injury, hopefully the hard work of resistance training we have put in will allow us to compensate for our deficits (in the long- or short-term).

As someone who has never had to rely on devices to help me ambulate, I have learned a lot in the last few days. I get why we have extra-wide handicap spaces. I get why we have ramps. The ADA has gone a long way to making public places accessible. If, however, we lack the basic strength to make use of these accommodations, what is the use?

We are never too old to lift weights. Muscle degradation does not need to be in our future. Seniors: get off of those treadmills a few times a week and get to the dumbbells! You’ll be glad you did.