How Do Weight Bearing Exercises Improve Osteoporosis?

Updated on May 5, 2017

Osteoporosis

Bone is a living tissue, which is constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn't keep pace with the removal of old bone. Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle. It affects men and women of all races.

After age 30, we start losing bone density. In fact, women will lose up to 20 percent of bone mineral density in the five to seven years after menopause. White and Asian women are at highest risk. And by age 65 men and women lose bone density at the same rate.

Loss of bone density often ends up causing life-changing fractures. Bone fractures, particularly in the spine or hip, are the most serious complication of osteoporosis. In some cases, spinal fractures can occur even if a person hasn’t fallen. The vertebrae of the spine can weaken to the point that they may crumple, which can result in back pain, loss of height and a hunched forward posture. But the good news is that we can prevent or delay the onset of osteoporosis.

The following statistics of International Osteoporosis Foundation highlight extent of its prevalence worldwide:

  • Osteoporosis is estimated to affect 200 million women worldwide - approximately one-tenth of women aged 60, one-fifth of women aged 70, two-fifths of women aged 80 and two-thirds of women aged 90.
  • Worldwide, osteoporosis causes more than 8.9 million fractures annually, resulting in an osteoporotic fracture every 3 seconds.
  • Although the overall prevalence of fragility fractures is higher in women, men generally have higher rates of fracture related mortality.
  • About 20-25% of hip fractures occur in men. The overall mortality is about 20% in the first 12 months after hip fracture and is higher in men than women. Over the first 6 months, the mortality rate in men approximately doubled that in similarly aged women.

Association of weight training and osteoporosis –

Weight training is a type of resistance-training exercise using barbells, dumbbells, or machines to increase muscle strength and mass, walking speed, climbing ability and sense of well-being. Besides osteoporosis, it is believed to be beneficial in arthritis, cardiovascular disease, depression, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and in increasing gastrointestinal transit time.

For a balanced fitness program, weight training plays an essential part. It is not only important for muscles but for bones as well, preventing osteoporosis and related problems.

According to an article published online in American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, in addition to direct skeletal benefits, the effects of resistance training on muscle mass and strength, balance and agility underscore its importance for osteoporosis, falls, and fracture prevention. It mentions further that prospective studies also support the benefits of resistance exercises, demonstrating slowed bone loss and often an increase of 1% to 3% in regional bone mineral density, especially in women.

In another study, researchers have found that certain types of weight lifting and jumping exercises, when completed for at least six months, improve bone density in active, healthy, middle-aged men with low bone mass. These exercises may help prevent osteoporosis by facilitating bone growth.

How do weight bearing exercises affect osteoporosis? –

According to a recent study, which is the first in men, researchers have found that long-term, weight-bearing exercises decrease sclerostin, a protein made in the bones, and increase IGF-1, a hormone associated with bone growth. These changes promote bone formation, thereby increasing bone density.

Below are mentioned what roles sclerostin and IGF - 1 play in preventing osteoporosis:

  • Sclerostin is a protein that is encoded by the SOST gene, located on chromosome 17q12–q21 in humans. Sclerostin is expressed in osteocytes (bone cells) and some chondrocytes (cartilage cells). It inhibits bone formation by osteoblasts, which are specific to building and production of new bone. It regulates bone-remodeling by influencing functions of both osteoblasts and osteoclasts, which are specific to the tearing down or destruction of bone.
  • Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), also called somatomedin C, is a protein that in humans is encoded by the IGF1 gene. It plays an important role in childhood growth and continues to have anabolic effects in adults that include building up organs and tissues. IGF-1 is produced throughout life. The highest rates of IGF-1 production occur during the pubertal growth spurt. The lowest levels occur in infancy and old age.

Although many studies have revealed that weight bearing exercises prevent or delay the onset of osteoporosis both in men and women, this is the first study of its kind in men that brings forth a mechanism that underlies the association between such exercises and osteoporosis. More such and related studies are required to be undertaken both on men and women to substantiate these observations.

The bottom line –

All weight bearing exercises including calisthenics improve osteoporosis. But for the optimal workout, combine weight-bearing exercises with resistance training. This can include free weights, elastic bands or machines and equipments. These exercises should target the bones of every part of body including spine, which is often neglected.

Besides preventing osteoporosis, regular strength training can protect us from breaking bones by improving our balance. The bones in the spine and lower body help support our weight, so muscular strength, which can be improved with the help of strength training in these areas, improves balance.

References -

  • Article Information Volume: 3 issue: 4, page(s): 310-319 Article first published online: May 1, 2009; Issue published: July 1, 2009 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827609334979
  • University of Missouri-Columbia. "Exercise may reverse age-related bone loss in middle-aged men: Weight-lifting and jumping exercises improved bone density could decrease osteoporosis risk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 July 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150714150936.htm>.
  • University of Missouri-Columbia. "Weight-bearing exercises promote bone formation in men: Human hormone, protein linked to bone mass is impacted by 12 months of targeted exercise." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 March 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170322143135.htm>.

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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      16 months ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks Dana for liking my hub. I fully agree with you views.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      16 months ago from LOS ANGELES

      Dr Rangan- This hub is very informative and should do very well. The biggest fear of the elderly is growing old and being a burden on others. Any tips on staying healthy enough to remain independent should be taken very seriously.

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