Old People Shouldn't Lift Weights...is a complete fallacy.

July 07, 2017

Old People Shouldn't Lift Weights...is a complete fallacy.

In fact, weight training as you get older will help prevent osteoporosis. Not cardio, not aerobics - but lifting external load.

Bone is a living tissue that is constantly breaking down and rebuilding. "In osteoporosis, more bone gets broken down than built up. Osteoporosis is a major health concern. Half of all women and one-quarter of all men over age 50 will have a fracture caused by osteoporosis in their lifetime." (Cleveland Clinic Physical Therapist Marribeth Gibbon, PT.)

In one study, postmenopausal women who participated in a strength training program for a year saw significant increases in their bone density in the spine and hips, areas affected most by osteoporosis in older women.

In another article by FIT Trainers, physical activity is a determinant of peak Bone Mass Density (BMD). There is evidence that activity during growth modulates the external structure of bone, potentially enhancing skeletal strength, while during the adult years daily activity may reduce age-related bone loss. There are several studies demonstrating that when resistance training has been removed from pre-and postmenopausal women, BMD subsequently decreases.

The study also showed that the magnitude of the effect of a 7% to 8% increase in peak BMD, if maintained through the adult years, could translate to a 1.5-fold reduction in fracture risk. Low BMD at the hip increases the risk of fracture, and it is estimated that each 1 standard deviation decrease in BMD increases fracture risk 10%. However, most reported broken hips are not caused by low BMD alone, but rather result from injury associated with a fall. Thus, the combination of low BMD and a propensity to fall significantly increases an individual’s risk of a broken hip. Poor lower extremity strength and power and instability are independently associated with increased fall risk.

As individuals get older, osteopenia, decreased muscle mass, and decreased physical function occur. However, age-associated declines may be attributed partly to accompanying reductions inhabitual physical activity, as inactivity, immobilization, and bed rest also lead to significant musculoskeletal and functional decrements. Research suggests that engaging in activities that apply high loads to the musculoskeletal system - such as lifting weights - may reverse or slow these physiological and functional declines.

Unfortunately, in this country, the sport and benefits of Olympic weightlifting (OWL) have been overlooked for far too long, but finally they have been applied to developing power in athletes of various sports. OWL refers to the collection of exercises called the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. Some of the most powerful athletes in the world are elite level Olympic weightlifters. The ground reaction forces these athletes develop have been measured to be as much as 150% greater than the body weight and barbell weight they are lifting. When compared to other powerlifting exercises (i.e. squats, deadlifts, or bench press), Olympic weightlifters create more human power outputs than powerlifters – almost 5 times more power during the jerk. The amount of force these athletes must produce in order to perform these ballistic movements must be at a very high intensity when performing maximal effort lifts. Without a doubt, OWL is the best way to develop power in an athlete or individual. This is why strength and conditioning coaches utilize these lifts for developing athletes involved in explosive sports.

The NSCA paper entitled Health Aspects of Resistance Exercise and Training (2001) says that “animal and human studies suggest that muscular activity is effective in maintaining BMD if the forces developed reach a minimal effective strain, which is the level required to stimulate new bone formation. Because of the high forces that may be developed, resistance exercises appear to be specifically suited to prevent the loss of BMD and development of osteoporosis.”

One author has suggested that vigorous physical activity (including weight-bearing, resistance, and impact components) during childhood may maximize peak BMD. One study in particular did look at the benefits of OWL on BMD of the lower back and neck of the femur in elite junior Olympic weightlifters (average age was 17 years old). The weightlifters had a significantly greater BMD than their paired-age controls, and when compared with adult reference data of 20-39 yr old men, the BMD values were found to be significantly greater still. The authors concluded that the chronic high overloads of stress from OWL has a major influence on BMD.

Therefore, because muscle strain is necessary to maintain or improve BMD, and high-intensity OWL is the best for creating high power outputs and strength, I propose that the ideal choice of resistance training for treating and preventing osteoporosis would be OWL. According to the author’s statement above and the results of the above study, the sooner one would perform OWL, the better.  This could overload the skeletal system during childhood in order to create optimal BMD, especially during puberty while estrogen is pumping high in the developing female body. If optimal BMD is created naturally early in life, and a child performing OWL will adapt by increasing BMD, then his/her developing body will create a stronger skeletal system; this may decrease the likelihood of developing osteoporosis later in life. I do not know of any long-term evidence that has specifically looked at junior weightlifters and their BMD when compared to it later in their life, thus this is only a hypothesis.

In conclusion, tell your mom to lift weights! Let the world know! Olympic weightlifting doesn't have to be max loads, and doesn't have to be the only source of fitness; but you greatly improve your health and well being by adding it into your lifestyle!

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