Three strength training sessions a week keep bones strong without medication
Post-menopausal women with lower estradiol levels face a serious risk of osteoporosis. Doctors generally treat the problem with hormone therapy and medicines like biphosphonates, but many women are not happy with this. According to study published by Brazilian doctors in the Journal of Aging and Health, there's an equally effective alternative: strength training. Three sessions a week work wonders.
The researchers got 23 women in their mid-sixties to train their main muscle groups three times a week. They did leg press, chest press, leg curl, lat pull down, biceps curl, triceps extension, leg extension, upper back row, military press, hip abductor, hip adductor, and abdominal curls. The women did 3 sets of each exercise, with a weight at which they could just manage 10 reps in the last set. A control group of women of the same age did nothing.
After 24 weeks the researchers found that the body fat percentage in the active women had gone down from 31 percent to 27 percent. The inactive women's fat percentage had increased by 1 percent.
Moreover, the active women had become stronger. Their 1RM for the bench press had increased by 46 percent and for the leg extension by 39 percent.
The researchers measured the bone density of their subjects' lumbar spine vertebrae and the femoral head before starting the training programme. The femoral head is shown in the photo above. This is the bone that often breaks in women with osteoporosis. The training programme reduced the decline in bone mass in the vertebrae and the femoral head.
The women trained under the guidance of a coach. The coach devoted attention to how the women performed the return - eccentric - movement of their weight training exercises. The researchers suspect that this is why they achieved such impressive results. It's not the first time that the effect of weight training on bone mass in elder women has been studied, but most previous studies have not produced such good results as those published by the Brazilians.
How strength training maintains bone strength the researchers do not yet know. One theory is that weight training causes tension in the bones, which stimulates the growth of bone cells.
Interestingly, the programme did not lead to an increase in bone density. The graph above shows this. But you wonder what the results would have been if the researchers had combined the weight training with a powerful vitamin D supplement.
J Aging Health. 2009 Jun;21(3):519-27.
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