As the baby boomer generation matures, increasing attention is focused on treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. Popular strategies for maintaining bone density include estrogen replacement and supplementation of calcium and vitamin D. Recent research supports that specific modes of exercise are also effective at preserving bone health while delivering additional dividends.
Bones are very active tissues which respond to stimuli. Although not as dynamic as muscles, bones do increase in strength when systematically taxed. Also like muscles, bones have a “use it or lose” nature. Astronauts, male or female, begin to lose bone density after a few weeks of weightlessness in space.
It is well established that load bearing exercise increases bone density in athletes. In the last decade there’s been considerable speculation that weight bearing exercise will help to preserve bone mineral density into maturity. The journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association recently published a landmark study supporting the theory that bone density can be preserved through exercise. The Erlangen Study followed post-menopausal women for four years, and found that women who consistently followed a carefully prescribed exercise plan had maintained bone density while lowering body fat. The women in the exercise group also produced better cardiac health indicators than their counterparts in a non exercise control group.
Beyond strengthening connective tissue, certain exercise techniques focus more on improving balance and coordination. Falls and subsequent fractures are serious business. Hip fractures are debilitating, often humiliating, and can lead to dangerous complications Including blood clots. The best intervention, by far, is to prevent falls. In recent years trainers have learned much about working to improve the client’s balance. Today it’s common to see a client perform an exercise while standing on one foot, maybe while lifting a weight in one hand. Such approaches are not aimed at hoisting huge amounts of weight, but rather to improve the client’s balance while simulating real life activities. Picture reaching to put a bag in an overhead compartment or place a can on a high shelf. By improving the client’s balance and awareness (fancy term proprioception) the trainer can help the client reduce the risk of a fall later in life.
Finally, exercise creates another advantage for everyone. It is well established that active folks feel better about themselves. This improved self-efficacy should not be overlooked as a valuable benefit, especially for a generation of boomers working to remain confident and independent.
James G. Menz, MS, CSCS, holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Science and has been a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist since 2000. Jim has over 13 years of experience as a trainer, massage therapist and educator. Today he offers continuing education workshops to trainers, therapists, nurses and teachers throughout the Delaware Valley.