Strength Training Can Build Bone Density

Published February 10th, 2004. 
Article by Karey Solomon.
Source: Ithaca Times.

Nutrition, healing food, strength training, and exercise can prevent osteoporosis and create healthy bones. “Nutrition is not enough,” says Elaine Mansfield, a nutrition and health care counselor for 25 years. “Aerobics and flexibility is not enough.”

Despite vigilant attention to diet and exercise, a few years back Mansfield felt herself gaining weight and growing weaker, rather than stronger. Then she joined her husband, who’d taken up strength training to help recover from a shoulder injury. She found the routines made huge changes in her own strength and vitality.

“I was hooked right away,” she says. “I didn’t expect strength training to do this, but it cleared up depression and changed my emotional self. I could feel myself getting stronger quite soon–but it was the emotional changes that made me feel I would always want to do this.”

That was four years ago. Mansfield began researching strength-training exercises, reading university trials and medical results, then studied to become a certified personal trainer. In addition to teaching private one-on-one classes, she’s distilled much of what she’s learned into larger classes.

Her class, “Strong Bodies Build Strong Bones: Nutrition and Exercise to Prevent and Reverse Osteoporosis and Osteopenia,” begins Saturday, Feb. 21, 2004 at Courtside Racquet & Fitness on Pine Tree Road and runs for four weeks.

Bone density is a large and complicated issue for many women. Mansfield learned recently that her own bone density is not good, the result, she says, of early smoking and “probably 100 weight-loss diets.”

“When I go back for another test I want to have become a little bone-building machine. I know what builds bone,” she says.

Mansfield advocates strength training, a form of weight-lifting using compound exercises rather than isolations or exercises that target single muscle areas. For example, she notes, bicep curls are known to most people who work out with weights–but this exercise only works the biceps, using movements few people need to use frequently in daily life. Instead, she uses exercises that work with a series of muscles, challenging people to improve the strength of muscle groups used everyday.

“I’m not saying isolation exercises are useless,” she says, “but they’re not efficient. When you’re working a group of muscles, you can do a lot in 30-40 minutes. This improves muscle strength and helps with basic tasks of daily life. Ultimately, weakness is what gets us in the end. We don’t need to sprint to the mailbox, but we do need to get out of a bathtub or a chair.”

And she’s found that adding weight work helps women of every age, from teens who are building the bones they’ll rely on for a lifetime, to the 90-year-old women studied in Tufts University trials who increased their bone density and decreased their risk of fracture.

There is a long list of additional benefits, from improved balance and flexibility, reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease to improved self-esteem. But Mansfield notes with a smile that she enjoyed seeing her weight drop despite eating more.

“Over six months I dropped about 30 pounds. It was slow and healthy. The natural thing that happens as we age is a loss of lean muscle mass and a slowing of the metabolism. That can be counteracted–and that’s great because I love to eat. I’m not saying you can eat anything you want, but you don’t have to be hungry.”

For the first time in her life, she’s kept the weight off long-term, too. “I am almost 60 years old, but I’ve got a spark and a bounce I didn’t have before I started doing this.”

Mansfield’s classes are tailored to the needs of those who take them. “It’s a mixture of nutrition, practical exercises and motivation. We will go onto the gym floor for an exercise routine. And the principles of what I do can be turned into home routines, too. I’m trying to help women feel that they’re important enough to put a little energy into themselves and not just jobs and families and friends. It’s a bit of treating ourselves well.

“I want to talk to the women and men sweating away on treadmills and stair-master machines for an hour at a time and tell them, ‘I know strength training sounds hard, but it’s much easier and more interesting than what you’re doing.’ I want to take aside my friends and tell them why they are getting fat despite hours of aerobic exercise. There is a way out of this, and it only takes two hours a week. Where else can you get so much for so little?”