The key word here is "protective." The body has an amazing capacity to protect itself from the stress it routinely encounters. But remember this: where there is not stimulus -- stress -- there can be no adaptive response. That's why the skin on, say, your armpit stays relatively thin and smooth.
This concept of adaptation applies your bones as well.
Over a century ago, a German surgeon named Julius Wolff put this idea into a simple law of physiology: bone tissue in a healthy human or animal will adapt to the load under which it is repeatedly placed. Bones will remodel themselves over time to resist that loading. That's why a broken bone will heal stronger than it was before it broke, and tennis players will have much denser bone in their serving arm.
This post is for everyone, but if you're in your 50s or older, it is especially relevant for you. Bones lose density as you age, unless you work to keep them strong. Loss of bone density is not an inevitability, but rather an adaptive response by the body -- in this case, your bones have adapted to not being challenged.
At a basic level, the most important activities to keep bones dense through middle age and beyond are simple things like walking and fun day-to-day recreational activities like hiking or cycling. However, your absolute best bet is to incorporate simple strength training into your routine at least once per week, or better yet, two or three times per week. Exercise selection does not have to be overly complicated; the basics work great.
My three favorite lifts for keeping your entire body strong are (in no particular order):
- The deadlift. Picking heavy things up from the floor -- safely -- is one of the most useful skills (and potent strength exercises) in the world.
- The overhead press. If you have the shoulder health to achieve a full range of motion, this lift (or one of its many variants) is a must. It strengthens all the muscles responsible for posture, as well as the abs. It makes reaching, balancing, and day-to-day activities a breeze.
- Any loaded carry, such as farmer walk or weighted-vest walking. Great for cardio, but also a very simple, self-limiting way to load the skeleton and train the entire body.
If you need guidance staying strong as you get older, reach out to me and let me know how I can help. I have a favorite saying about this:
"Old age is not a stage of life, but a condition of the body."
I know 30-somethings who are on the brink of "old age" because of their lifestyle. And I've worked with folks in their 50s and beyond who are staying young by staying strong. Below are two women in their late 50s. Michele (left) is pressing 20lbs dumbbells with each hand and dragging a 90lbs sled. Lian (right) is deadlifting TWO 70lbs kettlebells, for a total of 140lbs.
These ladies' bones are getting stronger by the day. (Not to mention that they look amazing.)
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