Vail Daily column: Avoiding osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a progressive bone disease that is characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density which can lead to an increased risk of fracture. Bone is a living tissue that turns over and remodels, and osteoporosis begins when the old bone cells die off faster than new ones are generated. Focused strength training with heavier weights can reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
The mineral portion of bone consists of small crystals containing calcium and phosphate, called hydroxyapatite (fairly brittle). This mineral is bound in an orderly manner to a matrix that is made up largely of a single protein, collagen (fairly soft). This matrix is somewhat synonymous with blacktop pavement. Blacktop pavement gets soft in the summer and often is the cause of many motorcycles tipping over in the parking lot mid summer’s day from the pavement softening due to heat. Similarly like a motorcycle on pavement, bones flex under external resistances. When the bones flex because you put a heavy weight on your back, and begin squatting, chemical and mechanical signals are sent out from the osteocytes to lay down new minerals and collagen to remodel thicker, denser, stronger bones. After all, based on the General Adaptation Syndrome, humans (and animals) adapt to the stressors placed on their system. You work in the garden too long without gloves, your hands callus to protect against future trauma. You put heavy weights on your musculoskeletal system and your body is forced to become stronger (bones included).
The problem I have seen is women are conditioned to believe that “looking muscular” is not attractive/feminine so they avoid proper weight training. Given this body image dilemma, women refrain from using heavy enough weights to actually cause the bones to adapt. Women often are afraid of using heavy weights in fear of “bulking up.” Heavy weights are not the culprit. The culprits to “bulking up” are medium weights, moderate repetition ranges, a surplus of calories per day, additional sleep and often imposed hormone modifications cause muscle weight gain. Heavy weights alone make you stronger, not necessarily larger.
Here’s what you need to do to reduce the risk of osteoporosis:
• Pick one or two exercises that load the entire musculoskeletal system. Big exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pressing weights overhead (make sure your shoulders are healthy, and you don’t need a heavy barbell to induce an adaptation as dumbbells and kettlebells work as well).
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• Perform three sets using a weight heavy enough for only five repetitions. If you can perform 10 repetitions, then the weight is too light.
• Every week, add 5 pounds to the movement until a plateau is reached.
The reasons why you need to pick large, complex movements are vast and endless. For the sake of this article, you must pick exercises that load the entire system, and be able to progressively use heavier weights week after week. Arm exercises for example have limited value, because your arms produce minimal force compared to what your legs, hips and spine combined can produce, to provide enough of a stimulus for your bones to adapt.
A heavy dose of squats, combined with a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D and protein can greatly reduce your risk of osteoporosis. If you are a woman and think you may have osteopenia (precursor to osteoporosis), then please consult your physician before engaging in a heavy strength training program.
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.