Long-Term Effects of Natural Bodybuilding

Natural bodybuilding, in which you change your physique and strength through frequent exercise, can be an exhilarating and satisfying sport. The changes you make to your body can produce beneficial and harmful long-term effects. Your muscles and bones can benefit and these gains can stay with you into old age. However, with long-term bodybuilding, you risk developing overuse injuries and can even put your cardiac health at risk.

Two bodybuilders in the gym. (Image: LuckyBusiness/iStock/Getty Images)

Muscle Mass

Long-term bodybuilding changes your body composition. Through resistance training, your body becomes stronger and leaner. Not only is this change a positive adaptation for your short-term health, but it can also help as you age. With age comes a loss of muscle mass and strength attributed to sarcopenia, the natural and normal decline in muscle with age. According to the book "Physical Dimensions of Aging" by Waneen Spiriduso, muscular decline begins at age 50 with a loss of 1 to 1.5 percent per year. After age 70, this loss increases to 3 percent per year. Maintaining muscle mass and strength can help you live independently and increase your quality of life.

Bones

Increased bone mineral density is another long-term positive effect of natural bodybuilding. Resistance training initiates a stimulus that signals your body to increase your bone density. By putting strain on your bones, your body adapts by making your bones stronger. Aging leads to a decline in bone strength, especially for women, that can develop into osteoporosis. When your bones lose strength, they become brittle and are susceptible to fracture. Bodybuilding can increase your bone density enough to reduce the amount of bone loss with aging. Doing so lessens your risk of osteoporosis. In addition, those who continue to exercise throughout the aging process can expect to see an even greater reduction, or even reversal, of bone loss.

Overuse Injuries

A negative aspect of bodybuilding is often the development of overuse injuries. Bodybuilding puts a significant strain on the joints, especially when you lift enough to induce hypertrophy. To reduce the likelihood of an overuse injury, follow healthy and safe training procedures by using proper form for each lift. You can also cut down on injury with proper training techniques, such as splitting your routine, so you don't overwork your muscles.

Heart Health

Natural bodybuilding can be a risk to your cardiac health, because of the intensity of the sport. According to a study published in "Cardiology" in 2006, lifting more than half your body weight could put your heart in jeopardy. The study connects heavy lifting to the risk of tearing your aorta, the large valve through which blood exits the heart. In the findings, 10 out of 31 individuals who experienced a torn aorta from heavy lifting died. Researchers suggest a screening test before any heavy lifting. Get medical clearance from your doctor if you plan on participating in a long-term bodybuilding exercise program. In addition, consider adding some cardio to your program. Aerobic exercise, such as running or biking, can help strengthen your heart and protect it against the problems associated with bodybuilding.

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