When it comes to trite fitness mottos, “Use it or lose it” may be the most apt. You see, our bodies respond to the stresses we place upon them. We lose muscle mass when we stop lifting weights (my smaller arms remind me of that every day). We lose lung capacity when we stop running. When you stop the stress (exercise), you stop the adaptation (growth). It’s science.
What does that mean for our bones, though? Our bones get weaker as we age, leading to osteoporosis and a greater tendency to stress fractures. This definitely sounds like a crappy outcome: just ask anyone who’s suffered a hip fracture how unpleasant it can be. There’s good news, though. These skeletal frailties can be delayed by taking effort now to strengthen our bones, just like we work to strengthen our muscles. Here’s why.
Research: Hit the Weights, Pound the Pavement
Research findings from the last 15 years shows that our bones can indeed be trained, just like our muscles. According to Heather McKay, director of the Center for Hip Health and Mobility (bio), short spurts of intense activity separated by brief rest periods build bone density more effectively than continuous, less intense activities like the elliptical.
In other words, strength training beats out steady-state activities for maintaining bone health. That weight lifting routine that my client Deborah has been working on? She’s building muscle while reversing her osteopenia. Jennifer’s Couch to 5K running routine that she’s pursuing out in Texas? It’s increasing her endurance while strengthening her spine. Not bad for trying out a training regimen, right?
Hot Spots for Bone Boosting
While there’s no one way to boost bone health, here’s a couple of key areas that could use some reinforcement now (Source, p179):
- Spine: Boost bone density here with jarring, weight-bearing movements like jogging, jumping rope, or aerobics. (Back pain blog)
- Wrist: Target your wrists with curl-based resistance exercises. Bicep and wrist curls work well here.
- Hips: Focus on weight-lifting movements. Squats, leg press, and deadlifts work wonders here. Ask your trainer for help.
“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” – Jim Rohn
Just like with any health-boosting regimen, you get better results the sooner you start. I personally prefer weightlifting because it builds muscle definition. What can I say–I like my big arms. Others prefer running for its spine-strengthening benefits and leaner body that comes with it. Some ambitious types pair the best of both worlds with basketball or step aerobics, getting jarring resistance while building muscle.
Whatever your bone-building path, start now and reap the benefits of healthy bones long after others resign themselves to a life of frailty. After all, the old “Use it or lose it” adage never rang more true than it does within your own body.