Does Weightlifting Stimulate Bone Growth?

Bodybuilder working out
Bodybuilder lifting weights at gym (Image: Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images)

Think of a bone in your body like a wooden stick -- the larger and denser the stick, the harder it is to break. As you age, however, the hormones that signal your body to build bone start to diminish in production, which can make your bones less dense and more injury-prone. By eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D and engaging in weightlifting exercises, you may be able to stimulate bone growth. Always speak to your physician before beginning a weightlifting program.

Mechanics

Two factors can stimulate bone growth in your body: hormone triggers and when your muscles pull on your bones. The changing hormones help your bones grow longer and stronger as you progress into adulthood. Bone growth stimulation from your muscles has more to do with a protective measure for your body. When you lift weights, your muscles pull on your bones, and your bones must support the added weight. To ensure your body can support future weightlifting sessions, your body builds new bone cells so your bones can become stronger.

Bone Mineral Content Study

The Department of Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, conducted a research review of bone density studies to determine weightlifting’s effectiveness in building bone mass. According to the study, published in the April 2006 edition of “Aging Clinical Experimental Research,” weightlifting has the greatest impact on young people and adults under age 60, resulting in bone mass gains of 2 to 5 percent per year. For those ages 60 and older, typical bone mass increases from weightlifting were between 1 and 3 percent. The study did note, however, that lifting weights offered additional benefits related to bone health, such as a reduced risk for falls that could potentially result in bone fractures.

Weightlifting vs. Weight Bearing

Weightlifting implies the motion of moving a free weight or weighted machine to build muscle and build bone. This will build bone, just as weight-bearing exercises, such as jogging, dancing and racquet sports, will. If you are hoping to adopt an exercise routine that can improve your bone mass, you can alternate weightlifting sessions with weight-bearing exercises, as well. Unless you are training and lifting weights competitively, it’s best to lift weights every other day to minimize your risk for injury.

Warning

When your bones lose density, you are at risk for experiencing a condition known as osteoporosis. While weightlifting can encourage bone growth and reduce your risk for osteoporosis, weightlifting alone isn’t considered enough to prevent or cure osteoporosis. For this reason, talk to your doctor about the variety of physical activity and nutrition choices you can make to strengthen your bones.

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