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Can Strength Training Reduce the Risk of Osteoporosis?

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Yes.  Doing strength training exercise can increase bone density and help prevent osteoporosis. Numerous scientific studies have shown that weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise performed regularly can dramatically reduce the risk of fractures and increase bone density.

In her book, Strong Women, Strong Bones, Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, of Tufts University, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, explains that women who walk for exercise have stronger bones than women who don’t exercise at all.  But, she says, “…the gentle stimulation of walking takes decades to produce effects.”  On the other hand, Dr. Nelson’s own research showed that “…strength training just twice a week dramatically cuts the risk of fractures for postmenopausal women.  After a year, participants gained bone in their hip and spine; they became stronger and their balance improved.”  During weight-bearing exercise, the muscles and related tendons place tension on the bones as muscles contract to lift the weight.  This action stimulates the body to lay down more bone.

Bones and Osteoporosis

According to The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), “Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones.  It happens when you lose too much bone, make too little bone, or both.  As a result, your bones become weak and may break from a minor fall or, in serious cases, even from simple actions, like sneezing or bumping into furniture.”

Although bones appear to be solid, they actually have a porous, honeycomb-like structure. Healthy bone is about 65% mineral, primarily calcium, and bone tissue is in a continuous cycle of breakdown and remodeling. In growing children and young adults, the bone-building process is happening faster than breakdown, resulting in a net increase in bone mass.  However, this balance begins to shift at around age 25, after which we tend to lose bone mass faster than it is rebuilt.  As bone density decreases, the spaces in the honeycomb-like structure become larger.  If too much bone is lost and these spaces become too large, there is a greater risk of breaking a bone from a minor accident or fall.

Although women, especially postmenopausal women, are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis, this bone disease is not gender specific.  Men are at risk, too.  If you think you are at increased risk for osteoporosis, it is important to discuss this with your doctor and develop a plan of action.  Whatever your age, you can take steps to improve your bone health.

What Do the Experts Recommend?

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends taking these steps to protect your bones:

  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D and eat a well-balanced diet
  • Engage in regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol

 What are the Risk Factors?

There are some risk factors that we              cannot control:

 

Other risk factors are                                controllable:

 

Family history of osteoporosis Poor diet
Age >50 Inactive lifestyle
Caucasian Smoking
Female Excessive alcohol
Menopause  
Low body weight (small and thin)  
Broken bones after age 40 or lost height  

 

How Much Calcium and Vitamin D is Needed?

Adequate calcium intake is essential for building strong bones and for preserving bone mass as we age.

 

NOF Recommended Calcium Intake

Women Men
Age 50 & younger 1,000 mg/day Age 70 & younger 1,000 mg/day
Age 51 & older 1,200 mg/day Age 71 & older 1,200 mg/day

 

Sources of Calcium

 

  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Sardines
  • Dark leafy greens—e.g., kale, spinach, collard or turnip greens
  • Fortified cereals
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Fortified soy or almond milk

 

Vitamin D is also critically important because, among its other roles, it facilitates calcium absorption.

 

NOF Recommended Vitamin D Intake

Women and Men
Under age 50 400 – 800 international units (IU)/day
Age 50 & older 800 – 1,000 IU/day

 

The best source of vitamin D is 15 minutes of direct sunlight without sunscreen 2 – 3 times a week.  This is usually enough exposure to allow your body to make enough vitamin D on its own.

 

Food Sources of Vitamin D

  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Fish—e.g., salmon, tuna, mackerel
  • Fortified milk and dairy products
  • Fortified cereals

Supplements can help when sunlight and diet are not enough.

 

*Before starting an exercise program, consult your doctor.

Resources:

The National Osteoporosis Foundation, http://nof.org/

Nelson, M. (2000). Strong Women, Strong Bones. New York, NY: The Penguin Group

 

 

 

Rachel Quiles, MS RDN, LD

Registered Dietitian

SuperSlow Zone Milton, Owner

 

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