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COLUMBIA, Mo.- Its no secret that men tend to gradually lose bone mass as they age, and that raises the risk of contracting osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle, so brittle that a fall or even mild stresses like bending over or coughing can cause a fracture. The body constantly absorbs and replaces bone tissue, but with osteoporosis, new bone creation doesn’t keep up with old bone removal. It is estimated that the residual lifetime risk of experiencing an osteoporotic fracture in men over the age of 50 is up to 27%.  Studies have shown nearly 2 million men in the U.S. have the condition, and 16 million more have low bone mass. Currently, University of Missouri researchers have found that certain types of weight-lifting and jumping exercises, when completed for at least six months, improve bone density in active, healthy, middle-aged men with low bone mass.  In turn, those exercises may help prevent osteoporosis by enabling bone growth.

Pam Hinton

Pam Hinton

In a press release from the MU News Bureau Pam Hinton, an associate professor and the director of nutritional sciences graduate studies in the MU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology stated, “Weight-lifting programs exist to increase muscular strength, but less research has examined what happens to bones during these types of exercises.”  Such 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 categorized as healthy.

The study was conducted by Hinton herself and two of her MU colleagues Peggy Nigh and John Thyfault. It consisted of 38 physically fit, middle-aged men who completed either a weight-lifting program or a jumping program for a year.  Each workout program required the participants to complete 60-120 minutes of targeted exercises each week.  During the study and throughout the training programs the participants took calcium and vitamin D supplements. Using a specialized X-ray scans of the whole body, hip and lumbar spine (five vertebral bodies in the lower back), the researchers measured the men’s bone mass at the start of the experiment and again at 6 and 12 months.

Researchers concluded that the bone mass of the whole body and lumbar spine notably increased after 6 months of completing the centralized training programs, and the increase was sustained at 12 months. Hinton stated the study results do not indicate that all kinds of weight lifting will help improve bone mass, rather more centralized targeted exercises made the programs more beneficial. In the press release Hinton said, “Only the bone experiencing the mechanical load is going to get stronger, so we specifically chose exercises that would load the hip and spine, which is why had participants do squats, deadlifts, lunges and the overhead press.” Hinton also stated, “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”

Minimal pain and fatigue were reported by the participants who were asked to rate the levels after completing their exercises.  Individuals who want to use similar training programs to improve bone density should consider their current activity levels and exercise preferences as well as time and equipment limitation. The study wasn’t done for participants who have osteoporosis the main point is about prevention.  “The interventions we studied are effective, safe, and take 60-120 minutes per week to complete, which is feasible for most people. Also, the exercises can be done at home and require minimal exercise equipment, which adds to the ease of implementing and continuing these interventions,” Hinton said.