Dear Sports Medicine Counsel,
I recently celebrated my 40th birthday. I have heard that as a woman my bones will become weaker and more likely to break as I age. I am concerned about becoming vulnerable to injuries and falls when I am older. I probably don’t live the healthiest lifestyle and don’t want to become frail – is there anything I can do to reduce the effects of aging on my bones?
Thank you for your question, and let me congratulate you on your recent birthday celebration. I would like to acknowledge that you have just taken your first step to becoming a “successful ager.” Research has demonstrated that individuals who are less physically active are more likely to age at an “accelerated” rate. The fact is that everyone ages, but not everyone ages at the same rate. The saying goes that “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” and if you don’t want to lose it, then move it. To age successfully, you’ll need to add plenty of physical activity, especially resistance training, into your daily routine.
The condition you are referring to is osteoporosis, which causes weakness and brittleness of bones due to the breakdown of bone tissue. Everyone begins losing bone mass at the age of 35. However, hormonal changes during menopause speed up bone loss in women. These changes also lead to women typically experiencing a sharp decline in muscle strength and mass at the age of menopause, whereas men suffer a gradual loss over their lifetime. A combination of weak bones and loss of muscle strength can be especially dangerous: leading to injuries as a result of falls, which are the most common cause of hospitalization among the elderly. As a woman, you have a one in three chance of suffering an osteoporosis-related fracture in your lifetime, compared to the one in five chance of fractures in men.
Luckily, you have the power to take control of some of the effects of aging. Adding resistance training, weight lifting or any other form of weight bearing exercise into your routine can reverse some of these effects. It is important to understand that your body will adapt the to stress you place on it. The stress put on your muscles and bones during weight bearing exercises will force them to become stronger. Also, they improve the brain’s connection to your muscles, making you more aware of the position of your joints and body parts. Increasing your muscle and bone strength, as well as body awareness, you can more easily manoeuvre your way through your environment, making falls less likely. Consider adding exercises such as deadlifts, squats, leg presses, and bench press for 8-12 repetitions for three sets into your routine a few times per week. When selecting a weight, make sure to start low and work up to find a weight that is challenging by the end of each set. Balancing exercises are also useful; these include any movements that require conscious effort to maintain stability, such as standing on one foot or tandem walking. For more information, consult a registered kinesiologist; they are a valuable source of information and can guide you through a personalized exercise program. Together, these resources will lead you down a path towards aging, successfully.
All the best,
Sports Medicine Counsel