Weightlifting is a common activity used to meet many different exercise goals, from young guys looking to get “swoll” to older men working to maintain muscle.
And new research from the University of Missouri shows that stronger bones is another reason for men to hit the gym and pump some iron.
A few years ago, Dr. Pam Hinton conducted a study on the overall health of men who participate in different types of exercise.
“We were shocked at that time to find that over 60 percent of the men who did non-weight bearing activity had clinically low bone mass,” said Hinton, an Associate Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at MU.
Low bone mass is the first step to developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones and often leads to serious fractures in older individuals. Known as a “silent disease” because of its lack of visible symptoms, more than 53 million Americans have or are at high risk for osteoporosis.
While the condition can affect both men and women at any age, the National Institutes of Health found that most men see osteoporosis as a disease that only effects women. And because men typically lose bone later in life than women, they usually face harsher consequences from it.
“The rate of mortality is much higher in men who've had a hip fracture than it is in women,” Hinton said.
So Hinton and her team started looking at what middle-aged men could do to slow down or reverse the loss of bone. Most doctors recommend getting more calcium, vitamin D and doing a weight-bearing activity. But Hinton wasn’t satisfied with such a vague exercise recommendation.
“[A weight-bearing activity] could mean walking, that could mean high-impact jumping. How long do you need to do it? How many times a week do you need to do it?” Hinton said. “We really wanted to come up with a more specific exercise prescription.”
The team developed a study to compare weight-lifting and jumping exercises over the course of a year. In the end, both exercises worked to increase bone mass but only weightlifting targeted both the hip and spine, the most common sites of fracture in people with osteoporosis.
And because the exercise increased bone mass, Hinton said weight-lifting is ideal for keeping bones healthy at any stage of life.
“We did have men who already had low bone mass and we were happy that they could do this type of exercise and see an increase in their bone mass,” Hinton said. “But the same type of exercise would be applicable to people who don't already have low bone mass.”
Hinton said there is plenty of research to support weightlifting’s ability to improve bone mass in women as well. But by focusing her research on men, she hopes everyone will be encouraged to include bone health in their regular workout routine.
“As you're thinking of ‘What exercise do I want to do?’, ‘What diseases am I trying to prevent?’, you need to do a little bit of something that's bone specific,” Hinton said.