• Dr Lottie Miles

Use it or Lose it: Bone Health & Weightlifting

Our bones are made of living, growing tissue. The body is continually breaking down old bone and replacing it with new bone cells – a process called bone remodelling. Most people reach their peak bone mass between 25-30 years old, but by 40 we slowly begin to lose the bone remodelling balance and our bones start to lose density (strength) and size.

This inevitable loss of bone means weaker bones which are more likely to fracture and break in later life. It also means conditions such as osteoporosis are more common in older, sedentary people. Oestrogen and Testosterone are two hormones that do a great job of protecting our bones throughout life. Unfortunately for women, menopause causes levels of oestrogen to fall, which means an even greater loss of bone density for postmenopausal women.

Here's what you can do about it…

Our lifestyle choices can either help protect us against the effect of bone degradation throughout our lives or accelerate it. Smoking, poor nutrition, inactivity and excessive alcohol intake all reduce your bone density (as well as having other negative impacts on your health).

One of the most important ways to look after your bones is weight-bearing and resistance exercise (e.g. tennis, running, HIIT workouts and lifting weights). During these movements, the muscles tug and pull on your bones, stimulating extra deposits of calcium into the area and kicking the bone forming cells into action. Low impact movements such as cycling, or swimming are not so effective at building bone strength, but they do of course have fantastic cardiovascular benefits.

The more exercise, and particularly resistance work (e.g., weightlifting) you do, the stronger your bones will get. Ideally you would look to build up muscle mass in adolescence and early adulthood when your bones are growing and the bone remodelling balance is in your favour. This allows you to maximise your bone mass to protect against bone loss in later years.

Having said that, don’t worry if you’ve missed this window, it’s never too late to start protecting your bones. The sooner you start exercising and lifting weights, the sooner you will slow down the loss of bone and you can even begin to rebuild weaker bones. This is especially important for postmenopausal women who don’t have the added benefit of oestrogen looking after their bones.

To help you get started here are a few fantastic weight-bearing and weightlifting exercises you can try…

1. Weightlifting – e.g. squats, presses, deadlifts, Olympic lifts (cleans, snatches and jerks)

2. Bodyweight exercises – e.g. box jumps, burpees, press-ups, pull ups

3. Running, dancing, walking, skipping

4. Sports such as tennis, squash, badminton, football, netball etc

Always check with your GP before starting a new exercise regime

sport mentality

by dr Lottie miles