Health Watch -- Keeping Bones Strong

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

To keep pulling your own weight, try lifting some.

As people age, their bones tend to weaken. The result is bones that break easily, which is a major cause of disability for older adults. Florida researchers have found that strength training can increase bone density so that bones are less likely to break. In their study, researchers had a group of older adults try high-intensity strength training such as leg presses and biceps curls using exercise machines. Other groups did low-intensity exercise or no exercise at all.

The group that did high-intensity strength training gained bone density in the area where the thigh bone meets the hip. That's an area particularly prone to injury in older adults. In blood tests, all of the people who exercised had signs of metabolic activity that can lead to stronger bones.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say weight-bearing exercise can help build stronger bones because the bones adapt themselves to the amount of strength they need based on how they're used. Walking, running and exercise all can help strengthen bones. Weight training also may help.

In addition to exercise, proper diet is essential for building stronger bones. Older adults need about 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day to keep their bones strong. Younger people can prevent weak bones later in life by exercising and eating a calcium-rich diet in their youth. Some studies have shown that vitamin D in conjunction with calcium can help bring about maximum benefits.