Beyond Biceps: Why Men Should Lift Weights as They Age

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If you think the rise of the “dad bod” is indication that older guys are off the hook when it comes to hitting the gym, think again. New research reveals yet another reason men should be motivated to pump some iron. According to a small study published in Bone, weekly weightlifting sessions or jumping exercises helped promote stronger bones in men who had low bone density.

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Although women are more commonly affected by osteoporosis — the weakening of the bones that can lead to more frequent fractures and bone breaks — men can also experience bone loss as they age. Roughly one in four men over 50 years old will break a bone due to low bone density, compared to one in two women over 50 years old. More than you’d think, right?

Power Moves to Fight Osteoporosis

While exercise is commonly recommended to men and women to prevent osteoporosis, not all forms of exercise promote healthy bone density. Researcher Pamela Hinton, Director of Graduate Studies in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri, and her colleagues published a study in 2008 that suggested men who participate in non-weight bearing exercises like running and cycling have clinically low bone density. “The [men] wanted to know, ‘What can we do about this?’” says Hinton. But since recommendations for such athletes didn’t exist, Hinton and her team sought to explore which workouts could, if at all, help boost bone density for otherwise healthy men.

In the follow-up study, published by Hinton and her colleagues, 38 healthy, active men (ages 25 to 60) with low bone mass density in the lumbar spine or hip completed a 12-month exercise intervention (as in, none of these men were working out prior) introducing them to weightlifting and jumping exercises. Bone density was measured before the study, after six months and at the end of the study, and pain and fatigue were recorded immediately after each training session.

Half of the participants performed three sessions of jumping exercises a week, including moves like single or double-leg squat jumps, hops, bounding, box jumps and plyometric lunges. The other half did a slew of resistance training exercises. Think: Squats, lunges, dead lifts, military presses and other weight-room moves, all of which are exercises specifically targeted the hip bone area.

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Good news for those who believe in the medicinal powers of exercise: Both the jumping and strength groups saw increases in bone mass after just six months, and, furthermore, participants were able to maintain that bone mass when measured at the one-year mark. However, only the squatters saw bone density increase in their hips, which suggests that exercises that put a weight load on the hip joint are the best way to improve bone density in that region.

But it’s important to note that these results do not indicate that all kinds of weight lifting will help improve bone mass. Rather, targeted exercises made the training programs effective — the first group focused on their spine; the latter, their hip bones. 

The Case to Get Moving

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“We were really pleased that both exercise programs worked and that they didn’t cause the subjects pain or fatigue, because that makes it more likely its something people will do in real life,” says Hinton. You don’t even need to work out 24/7, either — this study demonstrated you only need to spend one to two hours per week in the gym to see results.

And more importantly, “individuals don’t have to know they have osteoporosis to start lifting weights,” Hinton says.

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So men, just in case you needed another kick in the butt to get yourself into the weight room, here it is. By squatting, jumping or lifting pronto — your dadbod and your bones will thank you. Besides, as Hinton says, you don’t need any equipment, so no excuses allowed.

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