By Dr. Mercola
Many are aware that women's bone mass declines with age, and that bone loss can significantly speed up during the years after menopause, raising the risk of osteoporosis. However, men also lose bone mass as they age.
It's estimated that 16 million US men have low bone mass while close to 2 million have osteoporosis.1 People with osteoporosis, in turn, are at increased risk of height loss, fractures of the hips, wrists, and vertebrae, and chronic pain, so it's definitely a disease you're better off avoiding.
Fortunately, if you can spare 60 to 120 minutes a week, you can engage in strength-training exercises proven to improve your bone health in middle age.
Weight Lifting Strengthens Men's Bones in Middle Age
The new study involved nearly 40 middle-aged men with low bone mass. They followed either a weight lifting or a jumping exercise program, consisting of 60 to 120 minutes of targeted workouts weekly, for one year.
After six months, all the men had significant increases in bone mass of the whole body and lumbar spine. This increase was maintained at the 12-month mark.
However, only the weight lifting group also had increases in hip-bone density, which suggests jumping exercise programs should be done in addition to weight lifting for best results.
Researcher Pam Hinton, director of Nutritional Sciences Graduate Studies in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, was so impressed with the results that she suggested such exercises should be prescribed to reverse bone loss associated with aging.
She told Medicine Net:2
"Only the bone experiencing the mechanical load is going to get stronger, so we specifically chose exercises that would load the hip and the spine, which is why we had participants do squats, deadlifts, lunges, and the overhead press.
… Also, the intensity of the loading needs to increase over time to build strength. Both of the training programs gradually increased in intensity, and our participants also had rest weeks. Bones need to rest to continue to maximize the response.
…The interventions we studied are effective, safe, and take 60 to 120 minutes per week to complete, which is feasible for most people. Also, the exercises can be done at home and require minimal exercise equipment, which adds to the ease of implementing and continuing these interventions."
Why Is Weight Lifting So Good for Your Bones?
Your bones are constantly being rebuilt in a dynamic process involving the removal of old bone through osteoclasts and regeneration of new, healthy bone by osteoblasts. Load-bearing exercise works to build stronger bones by stimulating cells responsible for the synthesis and mineralization of bone (osteoblasts).
Weight-bearing exercise is actually one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis, because as you put more tension on your muscles it puts more pressure on your bones, which then respond by continuously creating fresh, new bone.
In the case of osteoporosis, the formation of new bone falls behind the rate of bone absorption, leading to weakened, thinner, and more brittle bones.
A thinning hipbone is a major concern if you are elderly, because any fall increases the risk of a broken hip, which always carries a great risk of complications and usually requires prolonged specialized care for recovery.
It's estimated that 25 percent of elderly people suffering a hip fracture die as a direct result.3 Unfortunately, less than 25 percent of Americans over the age of 45 engage in strength-training exercises,4 which means most are missing out on its significant benefits for bone health and more.
Weight-bearing exercise, like resistance or strength training, can go a long way to prevent brittle bone formation and can help reverse the damage already done. For example, a walking lunge exercise is a great way to build bone density in your hips, even without any additional weights.
The benefits of strength training for older adults are numerous and extend even beyond bone health, including:
- Improved sleep
- Reducing your risk for medical conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, cancer, and premature death from any cause
- Preventing falls and fractures
- Improving your overall mood and outlook
- Improved muscle strength
Strength training also increases your body's production of growth factors, which are responsible for cellular growth, proliferation, and differentiation. Some of these growth factors also promote the growth, differentiation, and survival of neurons, which helps explain why working your muscles also benefits your brain and even helps prevent dementia.
Middle Aged or Beyond? Try This Super Slow Weight-Training Workout
By slowing your movements down, it turns your weight-training session into high-intensity exercise. The super-slow movement allows your muscle, at the microscopic level, to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle.
This is a beneficial and safe way to incorporate high-intensity exercise into your workouts if you're middle aged or older, even if it's been awhile since you worked out.
You only need about 12 to 15 minutes of super-slow strength training once a week to achieve the same human growth hormone (HGH) production as you would from 20 minutes of Peak Fitness sprints, which is why fitness experts like Dr. Doug McGuff are such avid proponents of this technique. The fact that super-slow weight training gives you an excellent boost in human growth hormone (HGH), otherwise known as the "fitness hormone," is another reason why it's so beneficial if you're middle aged.
As you reach your 30s and beyond, you enter what's called "somatopause," when your levels of HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This is part of what drives your aging process.According to Dr. McGuff, there's also a strong correlation between somatopause and age-related sarcopenia, or muscle loss. HGH is needed to sustain your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which produce a lot of power. It's also needed to stimulate those muscles.
"What seems to be evident is that a high-intensity exercise stimulus is what triggers the body to make an adaptive response to hold on to muscle," Dr. McGuff says."We have to remember that muscle is a very metabolically expensive tissue… If you become sedentary and send your body a signal that this tissue is not being used, then that tissue is metabolically expensive. The adaptation is to deconstruct that tissue…"
People of all ages can benefit from super-slow weight training, but this is definitely a method to consider if you're middle-aged or older. I recommend using four or five basic compound movements for your super-slow (high intensity) exercise set. Compound movements are movements that require the coordination of several muscle groups — for example, squats, chest presses, and compound rows. Here is my version of the technique. I also demonstrate a number of exercises in the video above, starting around the 15-minute mark:
- Begin by lifting the weight as slowly and gradually as you can. In the video above, I demonstrate doing this with a four-second positive and a four-second negative, meaning it takes four seconds, or a slow count to four, to bring the weight up, and another four seconds to lower it. (When pushing, stop about 10 to 15 degrees before your limb is fully straightened; smoothly reverse direction)
- Slowly lower the weight back down to the slow count of four
- Repeat until exhaustion, which should be around four to eight reps. Once you reach exhaustion, don't try to heave or jerk the weight to get one last repetition in. Instead, just keep trying to produce the movement, even if it's not "going" anywhere, for another five seconds or so. If you're using the appropriate amount of weight or resistance, you'll be able to perform eight to 10 reps
- Immediately switch to the next exercise for the next target muscle group, and repeat the first three steps
Have You Tried the Power Plate?
Whole Body Vibrational Training (WBVT) using a Power Plate, is another safe, natural way to improve bone strength and density, thereby warding off osteoporosis. Best of all, it's gentle enough even for the disabled and elderly, who may not be able to engage in exercises like leaping, hopping, sprinting, or weight lifting. The Power Plate platform vibrates in three planes: vertical, horizontal, and sagittal, meaning front to back. (There is equipment out there that only moves in two planes but the three-plane movement devices seem superior.)
These micro-accelerations force your muscles to accommodate, resulting in dramatic improvement in strength, power, flexibility, balance, tone, and leanness. The Power Plate has been shown to help your body to build new bone by increasing blood flow to your bones as well as via hormonal release.5 Research supporting the use of WBVT for the prevention and treatment of brittle bones include but is not limited to the following:
- In one six-month long study, WBVT was found to produce a significant increase in hip area bone density in postmenopausal women, while conventional training was only able to slow the rate of deterioration.6
- A 2013 study found that postmenopausal women who used a vibration platform for five minutes, three times a week for six months, increased their lumbar spine bone density by 2 percent. The control group, which did not engage in WBVT, lost about 0.5 percent of theirs in that same timeframe.7
Your Bones Need the Proper Nutrients to Stay Strong…
Even with the best exercise regimen in the world, your bones will not be optimally healthy unless you're consuming the proper nutrients. So while exercise is certainly important, one of the most important strategies for healthy bones is to eat the right kinds of foods. A diet full of processed foods will produce biochemical and metabolic conditions in your body that will decrease your bone density, so avoiding processed foods is definitely the first step in the right direction. This goes far beyond calcium, which is the first nutrient many people think of concerning their bones.
Your bones are actually composed of several different minerals, and if you focus on calcium alone, you will likely weaken your bones and increase your risk of osteoporosis, as Dr. Robert Thompson explains in his book, The Calcium Lie.
Calcium, vitamins D and K2, and magnesium work synergistically together to promote strong, healthy bones, and your sodium to potassium ratio also plays an important role in maintaining your bone mass (larger amounts of potassium in relation to sodium is optimal for your bone health and your overall health). Ideally, you'd get all or most of these nutrients, including vitamin B12, from your diet (with the exception of vitamin D). This includes:
- Plant-derived calcium: Raw milk from pasture-raised cows (who eat the plants), leafy green vegetables, the pith of citrus fruits, carob, and sesame seeds
- Magnesium: Raw organic cacao and supplemental magnesium threonate if need be
- Vitamin K2: Grass-fed organic animal products (i.e. eggs, butter, and dairy), certain fermented foods such as natto, or vegetables fermented using a starter culture of vitamin K2-producing bacteria, and certain cheeses such as Brie and Gouda
- Trace minerals: Himalayan Crystal Salt, which contains all 84 elements found in your body, or other natural, unprocessed salt (NOT regular table salt!)
- Vitamin D: Ideally from appropriate sun exposure (or a high-quality tanning bed), as it's virtually impossible to get sufficient amounts from food. As a last resort, you could use a supplement, but if you do, you may also need to supplement with vitamin K2 to maintain ideal ratios
6 Steps to Better Bone Health
Proper diet, regular sun exposure, and weight-bearing exercise can both prevent and treat weakening bones. Whole Body Vibrational Training using a Power Plate is an excellent addition especially for the elderly, but will naturally work for all ages. To sum up some of the most important points discussed above, the following guidelines can help you maintain, or increase, your bone strength safely and naturally, even in middle age and beyond. It's not just one strategy that works for building bone health but, rather, the combination that will be best:
- Avoid processed foods and soda, which can increase bone damage by depleting your bones of calcium. By ditching processed foods, you're also automatically eliminating a major source of refined sugars and processed fructose, which drive insulin resistance. It will also provide you with a more appropriate potassium-to-sodium ratio, which is important for maintaining bone mass.
- Increase your consumption of raw, fresh vegetables, ideally organic. If you find it difficult to eat the recommended amount of vegetables you need daily, you can try vegetable juicing.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally from appropriate sun exposure or a high-quality tanning bed. Vitamin D builds your bone density by helping your body absorb calcium. If you use an oral supplement, make sure you're using vitamin D3 (not D2), and that you're also increasing your vitamin K2 intake.
- Consider making your own fermented vegetables using a special vitamin K2-producing starter culture, or supplementing with vitamin K2 if you're not getting enough from food alone. Vitamin K2 serves as the biological "glue" that helps plug the calcium into your bone matrix. Also remember to balance your calcium and magnesium (1:1 ratio).
- Maintain a healthy balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats in your diet by taking a high-quality animal-based omega-3 supplement like krill oil, an reducing your consumption of processed omega-6, found in processed foods and vegetable oils.
- Get regular exercise. Ideally, your fitness program should be comprehensive, providing the necessary weight-bearing activities for bone health while also improving your cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities with high-intensity exercises. Implementing weight training, including super slow weight training for high-intensity exercise, may be one of the best lifestyle changes you could ever make.