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Benefits of Lifting Weights Later in Life. Part I: Bone Density

“Don’t get old.” Working as a young clinician this is a frequent piece advice offered by some of my older patients. Although aging is an inevitable process, it’s not all bad. Most are simply looking to outweigh the downsides of aging: aching joints, weakness, decreased balance, etc. The foundation of aging gracefully is built upon maintaining strength, mobility, and balance in an ultimate attempt to maintain independence. When compared to a sedentary lifestyle, any and all physical activity is beneficial; however, resistance training through weight bearing exercise is the cream of the crop when it comes to maximizing the benefits of exercise. The use of resistance exercise as countless benefits, a top the list are bone density, improving muscle strength, and increasing balance.

Part I: Bone Density

It shouldn’t shock you to know that aging bones are weaker than their youth predecessors. Thinning of our bones can increase your risk for fracture from both traumatic (falling) and atraumatic (lifting) events. Bone loss is inevitable as we age, primarily for post-menopausal women; however, you may have control of the rate of loss. Although a host of medications can help you retain bone health, weight bearing exercise is a top the list to promote strong bones.

Research from a study conducted in 2000 indicated that use of free weights at a high intensity leads to improved bone density at the greater trochanter (hip bone) in men and women, as well as the lumbar vertebra in men (Zehnacker,2007). This study also showed that use of standing exercises and free weights were more efficient in improving bone health compared to use of machine or sitting exercises, again showing that weight bearing exercises will give you the most benefit for your effort. In the gym, ask yourself, “can I do this exercise safely in standing?” Commonly, the answer is yes. Simply transitioning from sitting to standing and machines to free weights can drastically influence not only your function, but also your bone health.

At its core, weight bearing exercise works to strengthen the bone in two ways. First, the effect of body weight and gravity stress your bone, which can signal to the body maintain better structural support (bone density). In fact, gaining weight can be indicated for individuals with low bone density, as more body weight can stimulate stronger bones. Second, pairing weight bearing and resistance exercise allows your muscles to pull on your bones. The muscle force required to move free weights will stimulate the bone to become stronger to support the pull of a muscle.

Moving forward, we’ll discuss the benefits of lifting weights later in life as it pertains to strength training (part II) and balance/falling (part III). We will culminate with an FREE community educational event at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA on Thursday, April 30th (7pm). In the meantime, get off your butt and start transitioning to weight bearing exercise.


Layne JE, Nelson ME. “The Effects of Progressive Resistance Training on Bone Density: A Review.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 31.1 (1999): 1):25-30p. Web
Zehnacker, Carol, H., and Anita Bemis-Dougherty. “Effect of Weighted Exercise on Bone Mineral Density in Post-Menopausal Women A Systematic Review.” Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy 30.207 (2007): n. pag. Web.