Can Doing Squats Increase Bone Density?

Can Doing Squats Increase Bone Density?

(Last Updated On: July 7, 2019)

Can Squats increase bone density

One goal that every woman and man should have is to keep their bones healthy. Women are at higher risk of developing this chronic health problem. Here are some grim statistics from the International Osteoporosis Association. One out of ten women who are 60 years of age has osteoporosis, while one out of five will develop it by age 70. The risk continues to rise until by age 90, two-thirds of women are impacted by this bone-destroying disease. In Caucasian women, the lifetime risk of fracturing a hip is 1 out of 6. In fact, 30% of people with osteoporosis will develop a fracture due to low bone density in their lifetime.

The best time to boost bone density is before the age of 30 when bones have the greatest capacity to increase in density. By age 30, your bones are usually the strongest and densest they will be.  After early adulthood, it is more difficult to boost bone density, although some studies show that we can modestly improve bone health even after menopause. One way to do this is through exercise.

High-impact exercise is one type of exercise that stimulates bone growth. This is an exercise where both feet leave the ground at the same time. Examples are running and jumping, including plyometrics. But high-intensity strength training may also boost bone density and one of the most common exercises people do when they strength train is squats. Can squats enhance bone density?

The Impact of Squats on Bone Density after Menopause

Maybe you didn’t start exercising until later in life. You missed out on the chance to maximize your bone density when you were young. Now, you’re wondering whether exercises like squats can still boost the health of your bones. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at this issue.

For the study, researchers recruited older women who already had either osteoporosis or osteopenia, a low bone density that isn’t severe enough to be called osteoporosis. They tested the subjects’ bone density before the study began and at the end of the 12-week study. During the study, participants in the exercise group performed three sets of squats weekly. They used a heavy resistance that allowed them to complete fewer than five repetitions for each set. A control group did not exercise. At the completion of the 12-week study, researchers retested their bone density and markers of bone growth. They also compared their strength before and after the 12 weeks of training.

Good news! The women who squatted enjoyed significant improvements in strength, and they also improved their bone density and showed an increase in markers for bone growth. It’s an encouraging study that suggests you can improve bone density after menopause and squats is an exercise that can help you do it. Note that the women squatted using heavy resistance. Doing air squats or using light weights probably won’t provide enough of a stimulus to the bone to boost bone density.

In another study, 24 weeks of a more varied resistance training program, including upper, lower, and core exercises, boosted bone density in the spine and hip of young, healthy men and women, although the benefits were greater in men.

Exercise for Bone Health

We know that movement is good for muscles and bones, but not all exercise is created equal when it comes to bone health. The best activity for boosting bone density is high-impact exercise where both feet leave the ground, like jumping and running. Studies also show that weight training using heavy resistance, 80% of one-rep max or greater, helps build bone. In contrast, non-impact exercise, like swimming and cycling, don’t build bone. That’s why strength training is so important for swimmers and cyclists – and for everyone! Take advantage of it!

How heavy do you have to lift? Although one study suggested that higher volume, lower weight resistance training can modestly boost bone density, most research suggests that you need to lift heavier. To build new bone, you need to turn up the activity of bone-building cells called osteoblasts. It’s easier to do this if you use heavy weight. In fact, studies suggest that around 80% of one-rep max is ideal. Choose compound exercises, like squats, deadlifts, lunges, and push-ups for maximal bone health benefits.

What about walking? Walking is the exercise many people gravitate toward as it’s so accessible. The Nurses’ Health Study showed that post-menopausal women who walked at least 4 hours weekly were 40% less likely to suffer a hip fracture relative to those who walked less than this amount. That’s encouraging, but walking on flat ground at a moderately slow pace doesn’t stimulate the bones to the same degree as strolling briskly or walking uphill. Plus, walking alone isn’t enough to slow the loss of muscle we experience as we age. Therefore, make sure you’re doing strength training using heavier weights and including other forms of high-impact exercise, such as plyometrics, in your routine. If you already have osteoporosis, talk to your doctor before doing high-impact exercise.

The Bottom Line

Strength training, in general, helps boost bone density as long as you use a weight at least 80% of your one-rep max. Squats, being a compound exercise, is a good choice. However, make sure your strength training program is balanced. Include a variety of compound exercises, including deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, and bench press to optimize the health of your bones and muscles. It’ll pay off with stronger bones and, hopefully, a longer, healthier life.

 

References:

·        International Osteoporosis Association. “Facts and Statistics”

·        Strength and Conditioning Research. “Does Strength Training Build Stronger Bones?”

·        WebMD.com. “Menopause, Weight Gain, and Exercise Tips”

·        J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Apr;25(4):1098-103. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d09e9d.

·        Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: October 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 10 – p 2879–2886. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318280d4e2.

·        BMC Med. 2012; 10: 168.Published online 2012 Dec 20. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-10-168.

·        J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Apr;25(4):1098-103. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d09e9d.

·        National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Osteoporosis Exercise for Strong Bones”

 

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