What Pumping Iron Could Do for Men's Bones

Bone mass improved in men who did weightlifting, jumping exercises

(RxWiki News) For men, losing some bone mass as they age is natural. But that doesn't necessarily mean they can't slow it down — and possibly reduce their risk for conditions like osteoporosis in the process.

A new study found that weightlifting and jumping exercises could improve bone density in healthy, middle-aged men — as long as they stick with it for at least six months.

“Weight-lifting programs exist to increase muscular strength, but less research has examined what happens to bones during these types of exercises,” said Dr. Pamela S. Hinton, an associate professor in the University of Missouri (MU) Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, in a press release. “Our study is the first to show that exercise-based interventions work to increase bone density in middle-aged men with low bone mass who are otherwise healthy. These exercises could be prescribed to reverse bone loss associated with aging.”

Nathaniel Jones, MD,  medical director of Sports Medicine at Loyola University Health System, said “Although osteoporosis is less common in men,  about 20 percent of all comers with diagnosis of osteoporosis are men. Men in general tend to be more active over a lifetime which helps prevent bone loss because exercise prevents bone loss, especially at the sites of skeletal stress (i.e. where muscle meets bone)."

For both men and women, bone mass tends to decrease with age. Osteoporosis occurs when the bones become too fragile or brittle. This raises patients' risk of fractures and other injuries. According to MU, around 2 million US men have osteoporosis, and nearly 16 million have low bone mass.

But certain exercises could change that, Dr. Hinton and colleagues said. At least that's the conclusion they reached after they studied 38 active, healthy, middle-aged men for a year.

These researchers had the men in this study engage in a weightlifting or jumping program for a year. All the while, these men took calcium and vitamin D supplements — two supplements tied to good bone health.

Both exercise programs entailed one to two hours of "targeted" exercises per week. In this case, targeted exercises focused on particular areas that are susceptible to fractures in patients with reduced bone mass, Dr. Hinton and team noted. That could mean that not all types of weight training will help bone mass.

“Only the bone experiencing the mechanical load is going to get stronger, so we specifically chose exercises that would load the hip and the spine, which is why we had participants do squats, deadlifts, lunges and the overhead press,” Dr. Hinton said. “Also, the intensity of the loading needs to increase over time to build strength. Both of the training programs gradually increased in intensity, and our participants also had rest weeks. Bones need to rest to continue to maximize the response.”

To measure changes in bone mass among the study patients, Dr. Hinton and team took special X-ray scans of the men's bones at the start of the study, six months in and after 12 months.

After six months, men in both the weightlifting and jumping groups showed bone mass gains overall and in their lower spines. These gains continued throughout the last six months of this study. However, only the patients who lifted weights showed bone mass gains in their hip bones.

The best part? Patients reported only minimal pain and tiredness throughout this study. Still, those planning to start an exercise program should always speak to their doctor first.

Dr. Jones continued "Just as in women, calcium and vitamin D are important supplements that I would recommend taking, as they are part of the building blocks of bone. If available, a personal trainer or sports medicine physician can be helpful in building an exercise program.  Also, if you have osteoporosis there also may  be contraindications to how much weight one to can lift.”

This study was published July 14 in the journal Bone.

Grants from the MU Research Board and National Institutes of Health funded this research. Dr. Hinton and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 15, 2015