There are lots of reasons to feel good about resistance training: enhanced athletic performance, increased muscle mass and metabolism, and less body fat are among the most recognized benefits. But if you need another reason to add more resistance to your fitness regime, improving bone health should be right at the top of the list.
It may not be widely talked about, but bone health has a significant impact on quality of life. Our bones provide structural support for the body as well as protection for our organs. As we age and experience hormonal changes that accompany menopause or other circumstances that lead to lower estrogen, our body’s ability to maintain healthy bone density diminishes. This can lead to joint pain, posture issues, increased risk for bone fractures, and difficulty engaging in activities of everyday living. We’ve all seen the image of an older person, hunched over at the shoulders and no longer able to stand upright—this is the stereotypical warning about osteoporosis, a condition in which loss of bone density leads to weak, brittle bones. Women (particularly white and Asian women) have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. But it’s not too late! You can still take steps to help maintain bone health and strength.
Like muscles, bones are living tissues that respond to exercise by getting stronger. Resistance training, the type of exercise that stimulates our bones to build more density, comes in many forms. Any weight-bearing exercise, or exercise that requires your body to move against an opposing force, is considered resistance training. Using bodyweight exercises, resistance bands, weight machines, or free weights will all contribute to improvements in bone density. What’s best for any given person will depend on previous training experience and fitness level. The good news is, heavy loads with lower repetitions and lighter weight with high repetitions have both been shown to yield results when it comes to improving bone density. So whether barbell squats and deadlifts are your style, or resistance bands and light dumbbells are more your speed, you can still reap bone-health benefits from regular workouts.
The take-home point is this: finding exercises that you will stick with and that keep you excited to continue resistance training is more important than which method you use. If you have concerns about existing loss of bone density, it’s wise to consult with an experienced professional regarding your training, and pay particular attention to building strength in the back and hips since those areas are especially susceptible to injury.