We’ve heard over and over that weight-bearing exercise is the best way to build bone mass and bone density. It is one way, but it is not the only way. Newer research has demonstrated that you can increase your bone mass through strength training. Really, all that is required is some sort of stress being placed on the bone. We used to think that only weight-bearing exercises like walking provided an adequate stimulus. But now we know that strength training can have an equal, if not better, benefit. Strength training provides a stimulus as the muscles forcefully contract which increases the tension on the tendons, and that stress is transferred to the bones.
In the past, it has been emphasized that your peak bone mass occurs somewhere around 30 years of age, so we tended to focus on building that peak mass. We forget that although you may not be able to change your peak bone mass after-the fact, you can change the rate of bone resorption, or the rate at which your bone breaks down. So even if you didn’t max out your peak bone mass, you can still affect your bone density as you age.
Bone is another case of “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. It seems that just about any activity can help to preserver bone mass, regardless of what it is. If you keep moving, it will help.
An added benefit of strength training over endurance training for bone mass, is the maintenance of lean body mass. As we get older, we tend to lose muscle mass as well as bone mass. This can make us more susceptible to falls, and more likely to suffer a fracture. Maintenance of lean body mass tends to translate into better overall proprioception and stability. Since the main source of fracture in those with osteoporosis or osteopenia is falls, preventing falls through strength training can reduce falls and fractures, and therefore reduce overall mortality. Of course, nutrition can play a huge role on bone health, but that topic will be for another post!