The average 65 year old female can be expected to reach her 85th birthday. The average 65 year old male can be expected to reach his 87th birthday. But at what quality they celebrate this can be widely different. Either on the life of the party or immobilised on the sidelines.
As we age our bone density decreases. From about 25 – 50 our bone regrowth and break down equals out, specifically known as regrowth. Old bone is replaced by new bone at the same rate. But our muscle mass starts to drop at a rate of 10 % per decade. It then accelerates to 15% as we pass 80. As we pass 50, the breakdown of bones outweighs that of the regrowth of new bones and for women it accelerates drastically when menopause occurs. If the breakdown of the bone occurs rapidly and consistently and outweighs that of new bone development this can lead to weak bones and a condition called osteoporosis or osteopenia. Other factors that can affect the density of the bone include genetics, gender, nutrition, peak bone mass accrual in youth, hormones, physical activities, and other comorbid factors.
With weak bones, the risk of breaking / fracturing a bone increases drastically due to the fragile nature of the bones themselves. This can lead to a weakness of the skeletal system. Now the whole support structure of the muscles and the body is unstable. Everything becomes out of whack. People tend to lose their confidence in doing everyday tasks and the quality of their life decreases at a drastic rate. They start to shuffle when they walk, hold onto furniture, don’t move as much and appear to lose the love of life. Does this sound like a parent or grandparent you know?
Another factor that happens as we age is that in general, we slow down. Our physical activity levels slow down and hence we are less fit / strong then when we were younger. Essentially as we slow down, we rust up. This now means we are more susceptible to other serious issues such as falls or fractures. The body loves movement. As we move, the oil in the joints is renewed and the rust is then pushed out. When we slow down, the oil in the joints becomes old and the joints become less lubricated. Couple poor lubrication of a joint and weak bones, you are destined for an issue.
So what can you do about it?
We know that exercise is fantastic for the body, mental health and in healing injuries. As we slow down the muscles become weaker and less efficient and hence, we become weaker and more susceptible to injuries. But what exercise is good and /or safe to increase bone density?
Resistance (weight training) training
There have been numerous studies conducted in the last 10 years that show that not only is lifting weights for seniors safe, it is also extremely beneficial for increasing bone density. An older study but a landmark study conducted in 1999, showed that people between the ages of 87 – 91 who participated in a weights program for 8 weeks, improved their overall strength by 180 % (Dell, 1999).
Not only can weightlifting increase the strength, it can also aid in older people’s gait (walking). With increased strength, seniors tend to stop shuffling whilst they are walking and hence reduce their chances of falling. This may allow them to maintain their own independence. They can continue to do the shopping, cooking, cleaning, gardening, all with a reduced chance of falling. This tends to allow them to maintain their confidence which then keeps their mental health strong.
Don’t be scared about having to go to a gym or buy lots of weights. There are many things you already have around your house that you could use without you ever having thought you could use it for weight training. We are also not talking about making you into a body build with muscles on muscles. We are simply taking about the strength you simply need for day to day tasks that will keep you safe and allow you the quality of life you deserve in the later years.