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What is weight-bearing exercise and why is it important?

weight-bearing-skelitonWeight-bearing exercise creates bone density when it comes to preventing osteoporosis.

Our bones remodel and regrow themselves when there is a stimulus from the external environment. One of the best ways to achieve this is to perform movements where our body is upright and working against gravity – activities like dancing, hiking, walking, climbing, tennis, netball, skipping, aerobics – anything where the body is sustaining impact. As a side note, this is also the reason why astronauts have low bone density when they return from outer space.

bones respond best to weight-bearing exercise when the movements are comprised of short, high intensity bursts. Simple things like choosing the stairs instead of the escalator, or playing a quick game of ball with the kids, can boost your bones anywhere, any time.

Another way to boost bone strength is by participating in resistance training. This style of exercise is about using your muscles to move an external force, and, in turn, the muscles pull on the bones. Any session which uses machines, free weights, ankle weights or your own bodyweight can achieve muscular strength, and therefore enhance bone strength. This is why we have such a focus on doing weight work in your programs and why we also encourage you through progression to lift heavier.

Exercise needs to be challenging to have noticeable effects on bone density. Over time, it should become progressively harder – the weights should become heavier, and the impacts should become higher (e.g. using a higher step box).

Researching the subject provided an article titled Muscle training for bone strength. It stated that the main function of bone is to provide the mechanical integrity for movement and protection; accordingly, bone mass and structure are adjusted to control the strains produced by mechanical load and muscular activity. Age-related patterns involve peak bone mass during growth, a plateau in adulthood, and bone loss during aging.

The decline in bone mass and structural integrity results in increased risk of fractures, particularly in post-menopausal women. Athletes competing in strength and power events, such as weight-lifting and jumping, have superior bone mass and structure compared with their untrained counterparts in all age groups. Exercise seems to be most effective during rapid growth, the average gain in bone mineral content (BMC) and density (BMD) in controlled trials being of the order of 2–5% per year. The net gain of BMD after exercise interventions among older people is modest, at a level of 1–3% per year,. Researchers note that although aerobic exercise is important in maintaining overall health, resistance training may be more applicable to the basic rules of bone adaptation and have more favourable effects in maintaining or improving bone mass and structure, and be safe and feasible for older people.

It has been suggested that there is an opportunity for resistance training, for improved effects on BMD in post-menopausal women in bones which have less daily loading. Appropriate training regimens may reduce the risk of falls and the severity of fall-related injuries, and also constitute potential therapy to improve functional ability and the quality of life in osteoporotic patients.

Aging Clinical and Experimental Research April 2006, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 85–93

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