Weight bearing exercises build bone mass and ward off osteoporosis. In Canada, osteoporosis (“porous” bones) affects one in four women and one in eight men over 50. It is characterized by a gradually lose of bone density, which increases the risk of fractures.
Our bone mass is constantly being displaced and replaced and many factors influence the rate of these processes. Increased bone mass is a natural response to routine weight bearing exercises because our body wants to spread the “load” over a larger amount of bone. In an era of pharmacopoeia, in which there a drug for every sign and symptoms, weight bearing exercises can offer freedom from disease-related discomfort.
Another added benefit to weight training is more lean muscle mass, which means more metabolic active tissue. Muscle mass uses more calories than fat, and thus, you can see how increasing your muscle mass would result in better weight management over time.
Images of sculpted muscle men pumping iron often come it mind with the phrase “weight bearing exercise”. It’s true; use of free weights and dumbbells is a type of weight training. However, strength or weight bearing exercises also include calisthenics which use your own body weight as the source of resistance. Using medicine balls, large elastic bands or weights that you carry while doing aerobics are other ways to weight train.
The trick to reaping the benefits of strength exercises is to maintain form by doing each rep slowly. Count two breaths as the weight ascends, hold for two…then, descend for a count of two full breaths. If a particular exercise – say, a bicep curl – is too hard for you to do slowly with proper form, change to a lighter weight. The number of reps isn’t as important as protecting your body by using the correct form.
Weight bearing exercises are meditative, not hurried and forced. A classic example of this are the planks and Vinyasa flows done in some styles of yoga. As you focus on your form, you will become more aware of how your muscles are contracting and relaxing. The more you practice correct form, the stronger you will get, and the number of reps you complete in one training session will increase naturally.
Aim to spend 10 to 30 minutes doing strength and flexibility exercises on days where you are not doing cardiovascular workouts. Alternating strength activities with cardio adds variety, works different muscle fibers and encourages weight loss and improved body composition.