Slowing bone loss with weight-bearing exercise
As with loss of muscle mass, bone strength starts to decline earlier than you might imagine, slipping at an average rate of 1% per year after age 40. About 10.2 million Americans have osteoporosis, which is defined by weak and porous bones, and another 43 million are at risk for it.
Numerous studies have shown that weight-bearing exercise can help to slow bone loss, and several show it can even build bone. Activities that put stress on bones stimulate extra deposits of calcium and nudge bone-forming cells into action. The tugging and pushing on bone that occur during strength and power training provide the stress. The result is stronger, denser bones.
Even weight-bearing aerobic exercise, like walking or running, can help your bones, but there are a couple of caveats. Generally, higher-impact activities have a more pronounced effect on bone than lower impact aerobics. Velocity is also a factor; jogging or fast-paced aerobics will do more to strengthen bone than more leisurely movement. And keep in mind that only those bones that bear the load of the exercise will benefit. For example, walking or running protects only the bones in your lower body, including your hips.
By contrast, a well-rounded strength training program that works out all the major muscle groups can benefit practically all of your bones. Of particular interest, it targets bones of the hips, spine, and wrists, which, along with the ribs, are the sites most likely to fracture. Also, by enhancing strength and stability, resistance workouts reduce the likelihood of falls, which can lead to fractures.
To learn more about the benefits of strength training, buy Strength and Power Training for All Ages, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Power training: A complementary approach
Another type of training, known as power training, is proving to be just as important as traditional strength training in helping to maintain or rebuild muscles and strength — maybe even more important.
As the name suggests, power training is aimed at increasing power, which is the product of both strength and speed, reflecting how quickly you can exert force to produce the desired movement. Thus, faced with a mountain hike, you may have enough strength to reach the summit. But can you keep up with the younger members of your hiking group? Power, not just strength and cardio fitness, can get you up the steep inclines quickly and safely. By helping you react swiftly if you trip over a root or lose your balance on loose rocks, power can actually prevent falls.
To develop power, you need to add speed as you work against resistance. You can do this by performing traditional strength exercises such as push-ups or biceps curls at a faster pace, while maintaining good form. Plyometrics, such as jumping exercises, also build muscle power. The rapid acceleration as you leap into the air and then the rapid deceleration as you land increase your ability to produce explosive power — for example, darting across the street when a car ignores the crosswalk sign or chasing after a toddler headed for trouble. Exercises such as medicine ball throws increase upper-body power, so you're better able to catch a box of oatmeal if it falls from a shelf.
Power training may be even more important than strength training because muscle power declines at more than twice the rate that strength does as you age — as much as 3.5% a year for power compared with 1.5% for strength. That's why some doctors, physical therapists, and personal trainers are now combining the swift moves of power training with slower, more deliberate strength training exercises, as do the workouts in this report, to reap the benefits of both activities.
To learn more about the benefits of power training, buy Strength and Power Training for All Ages, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Strength and Power Training for All Ages
|•||The basics: Strength training, power training, and your muscles|
|•||The health benefits of power and strength training|
|•||Getting set up|
|•||Designing your program|
|•||... and more!|
Click here to read more »