Buff buildup. To be torn. Toning. Regardless of what it’s called, getting more muscular is usually the most important thing for any young person who hits the gym regularly. Think less about another key benefit that isn’t as easy to see but is more long lasting and consistent: weight training is the best way to build strong bones.
Remember milk mustache?
For a long time, conventional wisdom, created by ubiquitous marketing, proclaimed calcium intake to be the key to strong bones. Recent large studies, however, show that the addition of this mineral, often found in meat and dairy products, has only a minor effect on bone density and does not reduce fractures at all.
However, lifting weights helps. The stress placed on the bones when you squat, bench press, deadlift, pull up, or perform almost any movement with additional resistance fires bone-synthesizing cells called osteoblasts at full capacity. They begin to produce collagen, other specialized proteins, and hydroxyapatite – a bone mineral – and turn these raw materials into additional bones for the spine, femur, tibia, and any other bones that carry extra weight. The result is a stronger skeleton that is more resistant to fracture.
Since your skeleton is literally the fundamental structure of your body, this is a big deal. On average, a person over the age of forty loses about 1% of their bone mass every year. For about three million Americans each year, this decline eventually leads to a potentially debilitating condition called osteoporosis, in which bones become so weak and brittle that a fall or even mild stress, such as bending over or coughing, can cause them to crack. Every year there are two million osteoporosis-related fractures, sometimes resulting in irreversible weakness. According to Harvard Medical School, “Six out of 10 people who break a hip never fully regain their previous level of independence.”
Aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling are all fantastic forms of exercise. Easily available and often recommended to the elderly, they offer many health benefits. However, none of them come close to building bones the way strength training does. And some, especially walking, jogging and cycling, can put older adults at risk for falls.
Strengthen the skeleton
A measured resistance training program starting with two days a week of total body exercises, broken down into eight to twelve reps of two sets of a controlled resistance exercise on fixed machines, and progressively increasing the load with fewer reps. using freely moving weights, anyone can be put on the path to stronger, buffered bones.
This strengthening of the skeleton occurs at any age, but is most pronounced at an early age. In fact, the (understandably) superficial youngsters mentioned at the beginning of the article might want to take note of something the endocrinology team wrote in 2018:
“While there is no clear evidence from lifelong studies, it is hypothesized that adaptation to mechanical stress in youth leads to greater bone strength throughout life. Bones become less sensitive to mechanical stress after reaching skeletal maturity between the ages of 18 and 25.”
Muscles come and go, but bones can last forever.