Muscle and Bone Density and Aging
There are a few things you should never tell your physical therapist. The first is that you didn’t do your home exercises. The second is that you bought yourself a lift chair. Of course I’m joking, but in all reality, we live in a world where we try to make our lives as easy as possible. We buy lift chairs, stair chairs, high rise toilets, shoe horns, etc. to make our lives easier. Unfortunately, making things too easy can be detrimental to our health. We have all heard the phrase “use it or lose it.” This becomes especially true as we age. After the age of 30, our bone mineral density and muscle strength starts to decrease. However, the good news is we can slow down that process and even reverse it.
We all think we know how to gain muscle strength right? Lift weights and exercise. And that is correct. To gain muscle, we need to do resistance training. The biggest mistake is not making it challenging enough. We need to make sure we are choosing a weight or level of resistance that is hard enough that we can only do 8-15 repetitions before we need a break. If you can do 20-30 repetitions in a row without significant fatigue, you are using too light of weight or resistance.
So we know how to strengthen muscle, but what about strengthening bone? Sometimes we forget that bone is also living tissue that can respond to exercise. Bone specifically responds to weight-bearing and resistance exercises. Good examples of weight-bearing exercises include walking, stair climbing, jogging, and dancing. Swimming, riding bike, or seated exercises have good cardiovascular benefits, but are not the best way to strengthen bone since there is minimal weight bearing. Resistance exercises include lifting weights, using bands, or using body weight resistance such as in squats or pushups. And as mentioned before, we have to use enough weight or resistance to make it challenging.
Aging is part of life–and it’s better than the alternative. However, we can age well with exercise and activity. We can keep our bones and muscles as strong as possible, while also maintaining our coordination, balance, and heart health. If you have concerns about your strength, bone health, or balance, please ask your doctor about a referral to physical or occupational therapy.
By Jessica Hansen, DPT