Could Strength Training Improve Bone Health?

By: Betsy Bartlett

As I was going through the house hunting process last year, I was asked “are you sure you want this house?” by someone in their later years of life. As it turns out, osteoporosis is a major health problem, especially for aging women, which turned the stairs from the basement-level garage into a potential problem!  How do I make sure I’ll be strong enough to carry groceries up the stairs in my own home? Recent information suggests that prescribed strength training could help!

“Are you sure you want this house?  The garage is on the basement level, you will have to carry your groceries up a flight of stairs to put them away.”

The thought never crossed my mind, nor would it ever. It also surprised me coming from the person it did! Although she was my mother’s age, I don’t consider my mother old by any means. So, this person – at least in my mind – should be able to carry groceries up a flight of stairs. I hope the day never comes that I cannot physically carry my groceries, but could it?

Over the past few years, a topic brought up to me frequently at doctors’ appointments has been vitamin D levels. Both vitamin D and calcium intake tended to be topics of discussion, mostly because I do not ingest dairy products.  I was told it was important to keep my vitamin D levels at an optimal level and to take a calcium supplement due to my age and a woman’s increased risk for osteoporosis.

 

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a major public health problem that affects the elderly population, particularly women. It is a systemic, chronic skeletal disorder characterized by low bone mass, deterioration of bone tissue, increased bone fragility, and it’s susceptibly to recurrent fractures. Overall, this disorder affects one in every three women over the age of 50. Because it is a silent disease, there are no warning signs until a fracture occurs which makes it extremely important to do everything you can as a woman to insure healthy bones throughout your life instead of trying to reverse bone loss in later years.

 

Prevention

Approximately 20% of bone mass is genetically determined; however, the risk of osteoporosis can be reduced by increasing bone mass during youth, conserving bone mass during adulthood, and minimizing bone mass loss during advancing age. Some of the most important preventive habits are:

  • Weight-bearing exercise (e.g. going up and down stairs, jogging, aerobics, swimming, and isometrics; at least 30 minutes daily)
  • Diet or Supplementation containing adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D
  • Absence or cessation of smoking
  • No more than moderate alcohol or caffeine consumption

 

Strength Training for Improved Bone Health

You may have noticed that weight-bearing exercises such as going up and down stairs, for example, are one of the most important preventative habits on the list. Unfortunately, most women around the world are unaware of the benefits of exercise when it comes to preventing osteoporosis compared to the percentage aware of supplementation.

Osteoporosis takes a huge toll on health care costs as well as quality of life, so better educating women on all of the preventative measures is important! Exercise can serve as a powerful preventative measure but just as the quality of the supplements matters, the quality of the exercise matters as well.

A meta-analysis was done of studies that looked at the role of exercises in osteoporotic fracture prevention, studies that worked to determine the optimal exercises to combat osteoporosis, and explore the challenges that might arise from certain recommended interventions.  Here is what they found:

High-intensity, resistive strength training provided the maximum benefit in increasing bone mineral density (BMD) levels, muscle mass, and reduction in fractures, while posture and balance exercises only improved mobility. High-force exercises did not increase fractures and were associated with increases in BMD. Interventions including exercises, vitamin D, and calcium intake had limited effect when used as single interventions, while vitamin D and calcium may potentially cause increases of cardiovascular events.(3)

 

Next time I see the doctor and they ask me about my vitamin D and calcium intake I’ll let them know I take my supplements right before I go to CrossFit everyday!

 

References:

1-J Family Community Med. 2014 Sep-Dec; 21(3): 176–181.

2-BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2004; 5: 29.

3-Rambam Maimonides Med J. 2017 Jul 1;8(3). doi: 10.5041/RMMJ.10308.