There is definitely a simpatico relationship between muscle and bone. After all, the goal of both is to encourage vitality and contribute to a high quality of life. Because muscles and bones are closely interconnected by anatomy, chemical compounds, and metabolism, strong bones require strong muscles and vice versa. (2) One way to have both—strong muscles and bones—is with strength training. Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of strength training and how it can support bone health.
What is strength training?
The terms strength training, weightlifting, and resistance exercise can all be used interchangeably to describe a fitness technique that improves muscle and bone strength by increasing lean muscle mass, decreasing body weight, and providing other health benefits. (4) During resistance training, the musculoskeletal system is weakened and broken down by internal forces against external resistance. The body then adapts by strengthening the tissues of bone, ligament, muscle, and tendon. The body strengthens bone by enhancing osteoblast activity, the cells that add more structural stability to our bones. This in turn helps to prevent bone loss. (2)
While this form of exercise may typically be associated with bodybuilders and athletes, research is demonstrating that nearly everyone can benefit from at least some degree of strength training.
Benefits of strength training
Think of all the ways we rely on bone and muscle strength. Picking up a child or even a bag of groceries requires bone and muscle strength. Strong bones and muscles are also needed to walk, get in and out of the car, or get up from a chair. Bones are living tissue and as one ages, it’s even more important to protect bones from bone loss and debilitating diseases such as osteoporosis. (3)
In addition to strengthening bones and reducing the risk of fracture and osteoporosis, resistance training has a variety of other benefits including:
- Decreased visceral fat and overall weight loss
- Decreased low-density lipoprotein and triglyceride levels, with increased high-density lipoprotein levels
- Enhanced self-esteem and mental health
- Improved cognition
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced low back pain and pain associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia (5)
Best of all, beginners can get the most benefit from strength training.
Strength training for beginners
The American College of Sports Medicine provides the following advice for those interested in creating a basic strength training program:
- Engage in some type of muscle-building exercise program at least two nonconsecutive days each week (the days in between allow your muscles to recover to help avoid injury).
- Do some type of warm-up activity, such as light aerobics or dynamic stretching, before you begin your strength training session.
Eight to ten exercises each session that involve a combination of the upper body, lower body, and core is recommended (less if you are just getting started).
- Eight to 12 repetitions for each exercise is recommended but that can depend on the goal.
- More weight and fewer repetitions will likely lead to greater strength.
- Less weight and more repetitions will develop more muscular endurance. (4)
While it’s true that strength training can involve weight lifting and special fitness equipment, beginners don’t have to buy anything to reap the benefits.
Strength training at home
When strength training at home, using your own bodyweight is all you need to get started. Some examples of bodyweight exercises, for which you use your own body as a means of resistance to enhance muscle strength, include chair squats, jumping jacks, leg raises, pushups (on the floor or against the wall), situps, wall sits, and even yoga. (1) You can do arm curls or shoulder presses with everyday household objects, such as laundry detergent or soup cans. You can also add lightweight dumbbells and elastic resistance bands, take a virtual or in-person exercise class, or hire a trainer.
Walking can also be a good way to improve both muscle and bone strength. Research has shown that when walking is combined with some type of additional strength training, muscle quality, size, and physical function is further improved. (6)
No matter what form of strength training is chosen, experts agree that the greatest benefit comes from consistency and when the exercise can be increased progressively over time, especially when it comes to protecting and building bone health. (2)
The bottom line
Building bone and muscle strength aren’t just for bodybuilders anymore. Everyone can benefit from some type of strength training routine. In addition to building strong bones, as mentioned resistance exercise programs offer many other health benefits including cardiovascular, cognitive, and insulin sensitivity.
If you have been sedentary for an extended period or if you have cardiovascular issues, joint problems, or other health concerns, consider getting some advice from an integrative health provider before embarking on a new strength training program.
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- Harrison, J. S. (2010). Bodyweight training: a return to basics. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32(2), 52-55.
- Hong, A. R., & Kim, S. W. (2018). Effects of resistance exercise on bone health. Endocrinology and Metabolism, 33(4), 435-444.
- National Institutes of Health. (2020, December 22). Medline Plus: Bone Diseases. https://medlineplus.gov/bonediseases.html
- Thompson, D. L. (2008). Fitness focus copy-and share: strength training. ACSM Health & Fitness Journal, 12(1), 1-4. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/fulltext/2008/01000/fitness_focus_copy_and_share__strength_training.4.asp
- Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training in medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep, 11(4), 209-16.Yoshiko, A.,
- Tomita, A., Ando, R., Ogawa, M., Kondo, S., Saito, A., Tanaka, N. I., Koike, T., Oshida, Y., & Akima, H. (2018). Effects of 10-week walking and walking with home-based resistance training on muscle quality, muscle size, and physical functional tests in healthy older individuals. European Review of Aging and Physical Activity, 15:13.