There are a ton of perks of growing older, but bone deterioration is definitely not one of them. Here, we talk about the effects of age on our bones, the types of equipment and resistance exercises to improve bone strength, and what sort of things you need to avoid as you age. Let's dive right in!
I think you'll agree with me when I say:
Getting older is not all that bad.
In fact, it's easily one of the greatest experiences one could have in life.
You have more time for yourself and your family. You have wisdom and a better sense of what’s important. You can finally slow down, relax, and enjoy life.
There are a few downsides though, right?
For example, bone health deteriorating as we age.
That’s no fun, and can be pretty painful.
Is there anything you can do about it?
Most people picture bodybuilders and bulging muscles when you bring up resistance and strength training. In reality, we can all benefit from pumping some iron and using our bodies as resistance machines!
In this article, I am going to cover different resistance exercises you can do to help increase bone mass and have a better quality of life.
I am also going to cover what to avoid when doing resistance training in order to prevent injury.
Benefits of Resistance Training
Most people think of bones in the same way they think of rocks. They see them as hard and immovable. The average person doesn’t realize that bones, just like all of the other parts that make up the human body, are living tissue.
(Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org)
They degenerate, regenerate, grow, and can be damaged.
What Happens to Your Bones as You Age
As you age, your body changes. It is a fact of life. Your bones, in particular, are susceptible to the effects of aging. There are three primary disorders that affect the bones as you get older and your body changes.
These disorders are Osteoporosis, Paget’s disease, and osteoarthritis.
Osteoporosis is the most common bone disorder to affect the aging population. It translates to “porous bone”. It is caused when your bone is losing bone tissue at a higher rate than it can regenerate new bone tissue. The result is bones that are brittle, easily broken, and loss of height due to the vertebrae in your spine losing mass. It happens at higher rates after women reach menopause and as both men and women age.
Paget’s Disease is the second most common bone-related health condition. The cause is almost the exact opposite as the cause of osteoporosis. When someone suffers from Paget’s Disease, their body is creating new bone tissue too quickly. This can result in misshapen and very soft bones that fracture and break easily. It most commonly affects the pelvis, skull, spine, and legs. The only symptom you would usually notice is usually pain. In extreme cases, you may have noticeably misshapen bones or hearing loss.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis to affect people as they age. It affects the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones at the joints. Once the cushion is gone, the bone at the joints can be damaged. This damage cannot be reversed and it can extremely painful. It primarily affects the hands, knees, hips, and spine.
All three of these disorders are common as you age, and they all have the potential to cause a lot of pain.
However, there is hope!
Exercise may help to slow down the process of bone degeneration, and in some studies, it has been shown to help you gain more bone tissues.
Resistance training, in particular, can help you build up the muscles and help prevent further bone resorption, or bone loss, from happening. In some cases, doctors also believe that resistance training can also lead to regeneration and new bone tissue growth.
On top of that... Exercise, in general, helps with balance, overall health, and mental acuity!
How Resistance and Strength Training Can Help
Doctors and studies agree that most bone loss is due to disuse as you age.
Now more than ever people live a sedentary life. They sit at desks for work and go home and lay down or sit down to watch TV.
Whether at work or at home, get up every thirty to sixty minutes and stretch in the very least. At best, I would like them to have a set of light of resistance bands or hand weights so they can do a little resistance training throughout the day.
So... Why resistance training?
I am glad you asked.
Every muscle and bone in your body responds to exercise. Exercise makes your bones and the surrounding muscles work harder and therefore sends signals to the brain to strengthen those areas.
Research has also shown that regular exercise can help you with coordination and balance, which can help in the prevention of fractures and falls. Falls are a leading cause of injury in people over sixty-five.
The most beneficial exercises, in my opinion, for bone health as you age are resistance based. They help to keep both your bones and muscles strong and can even increase your strength. They can also affect your equilibrium and make it less likely for you to take a fall that can leave you injured.
Resistance exercise may also help you sleep better and reduce anxiety and depression, therefore increasing your quality of life.
Win, win, win!
Exercises That Can Benefit You
There are many resistance exercises you can do, each of them working a different muscle group and joint. Keep in mind, not all exercises are safe. We will get to that a little later.
Start small! I do not want you to get hurt or overwork your body.
You can always increase in intensity as you progress, but my biggest concern is your safety.
Equipment That Can Help
As I said before, my biggest concern is for your safety. Before starting any exercise routine please speak to your physician. I want to review the different types of equipment, there uses, and some safety tips before we get into the exercises themselves.
1. Free weights: Examples of free weights are dumbells, kettlebells, and barbells. They can be as small as one pound and they go up from there. You use these by lifting them.
(Image source: verywellfit.com)
2. Medicine ball: Medicine balls are weighted balls you use as weights. They are used in rehabilitation and strength training exercises. They can be lifted and thrown. You need to make sure you are using the right size for your level of fitness.
(Image source: bodybuilding.com)
3. Resistance bands: Resistance bands look like giant rubber bands. You can get them in a variety of strengths. They are often used because of how easy they are to travel with. They are also one of the most versatile tools on this list.
(Image source: blog.fitbit.com)
4. Weight machines: Weight machines come in an array of choices. There is a machine for each muscle group, and sometimes more than one. Generally, you will be seated while working on a specific muscle group. One example is the seated press, which allows you to sit on the provided seat while doing press exercises to work your chest and abs.
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5. Suspension equipment: There are different types of suspension equipment for working out, but the primary idea is that you are using your body weight and gravity to provide resistance and help you work your muscle groups. It can be a very effective tool that is also very portable.
(Image source: genesisfitness.com.au)
6. Your own body: This is the most effective and important piece of equipment you have. Your body can move in different ways to work out different muscle groups. You always have it with you, and you never have to worry about it costing too much or taking up too much space.
Now that we have covered the equipment you can use, I can start to cover the types of exercises that can help you.
Exercises: Which Ones Work and Why
Ultimately, weight-bearing and resistance exercises are the best options you have when it comes to bone and muscle health. Cardiovascular workouts are great, and they have their time and place, but they are not very effective in maintaining bone health. We have already covered why resistance exercise for bone health is your best option. Now I will delve into the top 7 you can do.
1. Squats: This basic exercise works out several major muscle groups at the same time. You will be engaging your core, your glutes, and every part of your leg muscles. Make it work even better for you by also holding a medicine ball or dumbbell out in front of you. If you struggle to do a squat, you can position yourself in front of a chair and slowly lower yourself into the chair and then come back up as soon as your butt touches the seat. Remember, the secret to the squat is to keep your muscles braced.
2. Inclined push-up: The inlined pushup allows you to put weight onto your arms without overdoing it with a traditional push-up. To do this exercise you will stand facing a wall and place your hands on it about shoulder-width apart, or slightly further. You will engage your abs and arms, and then slowly do a push-up against the wall. This engages the core, muscle groups in your arms, shoulders, chest, and calves.
3. Overhead shoulder press: Using a dumbbell in each hand you will hold each arm up at a ninety-degree angle and slowly push up the dumbbells until your arms are straightened at about shoulder-width apart.
4. Glute bridges: For this exercise, you will lay on your back with your knees bent and hands at your sides. Slowly lift your hips up until you have made the “bridge”. Again, you want to be engaging your muscles as you do this. Especially your core.
5. Band side-step: For this exercise, you will use a resistance band. Choose the resistance level based on your fitness level. Pull the band up to just over your knees, or at your lower thigh. Now simply take steps side to side while keeping your muscles engaged.
6. Medicine ball chest press: This exercise will require the medicine ball. You will sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor. Engage those muscles! Especially your core! Now, hold the medicine ball out straight in front of you. Hold it there for a moment. Then bring it back in, keeping it at the same height.
7. Hip marching: This is a simple exercise you can do right in your chair. You can choose to do this exercise with or without ankle weights. Simply sit in a chair and lift your legs in a marching motion while engaging your core muscles. This will work your hip, core, and thigh muscles.
Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise routine.
It is best to do ten to twelve reps for one set at a time per muscle group. So do ten reps of leg exercises, ten reps of arms, etc.
There are many more exercises to choose from. Ask your doctor or a trainer!
Exercises to Avoid
Exercise is healthy and safe for the majority of people, however, some people of retirement age and anyone with osteoporosis are at higher risk of injury.
Avoid any moves that involve putting too much pressure on your spine, such as crunches. I also ask that you avoid exercises that twist your trunk too much. Avoid toe touches where you are bringing your right hand to the left foot or vice versa.
Basically what I am saying is to avoid any exercise moves that involve twisting or excess pressure on your spine. These moves may be perfectly safe for you specifically, but that is something you should talk to your doctor about. Too much twisting and spinal pressure can cause fractures and long-term injury.
As you age your entire body will begin to change. The best thing you can do is take good care of it!
Exercise and a healthy diet can make a bigger difference than any other thing you can try when it comes to bone health. Keep using the bones and the muscles supporting them, but do so carefully.
Work out for your fitness level, and do it with safety in the forefront of your mind at all times!
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