Strength Training Can Lead to Healthy Bones
People strength train for different reasons: toning muscle, burning fat, losing weight, improving sleep, just to name a few. However, one important reason to get involved in weight training – especially for women – is to build bone density. Bone density loss numbers are staggering. It is estimated 10 million Americans are afflicted with it.
One of the functions of the hormone estrogen in women is to build bone density, thus keeping their bones strong. However, as women age, their estrogen level gradually drops, along with it their bone density, at around the rate of 1% per year after age 40 diminishes too. While women are the most susceptible – eight of that 10 million – men can lose bone density too as their testosterone level drops. Later on either gender can be diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis depending on the severity of bone mineral loss.
This can lead to falling later in life and breaking a hip – the number one cause of older women having to go to a nursing home. Many never fully recover their independence they had prior to that break. Some have even broken bones just bending over to tie their shoe!
But once in post-menopausal is not the time to start strength training, but it won’t hurt anything either if done with light weights or resistance bands. In fact, it may help retain what bone density is left. Numerous study results show strength training not only slows the loss of bone mineral, but it can build bone, which in the end means keeping most what you have left instead of losing more. Starting while still young gives you the best chance at having strong bones later in life.
Strength training for strong bones is only part of the equation. It also improves muscle mass and connective tissue strength which supports bones, along with improving balance and flexibility which in turn help reduce the risk of falling in the first place.
The enhanced feeling of stability can lead to doing more aerobic exercises which burn calories and help maintain weight – weight gain being another common age-related dilemma that puts additional stress on bones.
The lower body, because it carries most of your body weight is at the most risk. Lunges, squats and step-ups, either as bodyweight exercises or weighted by holding a dumbbell in each hand, work the lower body the best. A good alternative to using weights is to use resistance bands instead. They come in varying degrees of resistance. Exercises that target the spine and support abdominal core and wrists are also beneficial as these bones are also prone to breaking.
Regardless of what level of strength training you pursue, be sure to do some type if nothing more than using just bodyweight. You’ll be glad you did as you age.
How Often Should You Be Strength Training?
Strength training creates micro tears in the muscle fibers of the muscles stressed during a workout. Because strength training is about balancing exercise and stress on your muscles, the proper amount of recovery time is important. If given time, and the proper amount of sleep, the micro tears will repair themselves and the affected muscles come back even stronger and bigger (up to a point).
However, if you work the same muscles day-in and day-out, the tears don’t have time to repair, therefore you are constantly breaking down the muscle and end up losing both strength and size. So that brings us back to our title “How Often Should You Be Strength Training?” The answer is “It depends!”
It depends on two factors:
1) Muscles Worked
If you work different muscle groups on different days, you could lift five days per week. However, the time commitment is more than most of us can afford. For example, one day you would want to work your lower body; the next day arms and shoulders. Third day maybe upper and lower back and then start over with the lower body. Figuring out workouts that don’t overlap another muscle group worked the previous day can get complicated, but with the help of a personal strength trainer, it is doable.
2) Type of Workout
Experts in the business of lifting suggest a total body workout two to three times per week that works most major muscle groups. Squats or a bench press, along with shoulder presses, leg abductions, lat pull-downs, curls and lunges will give you a great workout. Just make sure you have at least a day or two between these types of lifting sessions for recovery.
Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, some strength training enthusiasts don’t use any additional weight other than their own bodyweight. Because no additional weight is involved, you can safely perform this type of workout five days per week. A common transition from bodyweight strength training is to then start to add resistance.
For example, lunges and squats can be done either with or without dumbbells or resistance bands. With any resistance-type workout, be sure to take at least one (and two is even better) off per week. Your body needs that time for recovery.
As you can see, how often you should be strength training varies. The bottom line is to train smart and listen to your body. It will tell you if you are training too hard and if should add more time between workouts or do a different workout altogether.
5 Benefits of Regular Strength Training
While shunned by many – especially women, because they think they will bulk up like a man – the advantages of strength training are just too great to ignore. The fairer sex has nothing to worry about as the bulk results from the elevated amount of testosterone in the body. Women don’t have enough to affect their muscle size to the extent that men do, who have up to 10 times more than women.
The benefits of strength training are too numerous to list within the confines of this article, but here are the top ones:
While cardio is a good weight loss strategy, because of the number of calories it burns in the short-term, strength training helps keeps off the weight since it increases your metabolism. By adding some muscle to your frame, you’ll burn more calories because the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn.
Increase Bone Density
We all know the dangers of osteoporosis where your bones become brittle due to the loss of bone material. This leads to an increased risk of breaking a bone from a fall. Multiple studies have shown strength training increases bone density which counteracts the loss of density over time.
It stands to reason strength training will increase your strength. But more importantly, it increases functional strength making it easier to do daily activities, like carrying in groceries, vacuuming, carrying laundry, etc. Due to increased strength, you are less likely to suffer an injury caused from doing daily tasks.
Like anything else, the more you do of something, the better you get at it. Strength training is no different. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to lift more weight. As you lift more weight, you’ll get stronger. As your muscles get stronger, your posture improves as your strengthened back muscles tend to pull you upright.
If you look better from muscle toning, adding some size, and losing weight, you are also going to feel better about yourself. Self-esteem, attitude and outlook on life improves. Suddenly, you feel vibrant and alive again!
Whether you use bodyweight, resistance bands or actual weights, like dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells, the benefits of strength training are there for the taking. They all have their pros and cons; it is up to you to find the one that works best for you. Get started today for a healthier tomorrow!