Bone strength peaks by age 30 in humans. That is it…after that your bones get weaker. Muscle strength peaks at about 25 years old and plateaus until 35 years old. After that, you lose muscle strength. So what does that mean for the aging athlete?
Why do you need to maintain bone mass (strength)? Because weaker bones are more likely to break. The death rate after a hip fracture is14-58%. Studies show up 50% of people die within one year of breaking their hip. You don’t want to be one of these unfortunate victims of death by osteoporosis.
There are a few ways to maintain bone strength. First, it is important to reach your peak strength by developing good bones when you are young. You need to get adequate vitamin D and Calcium in your diet at all ages, but if you deprive your body of either of these at a younger age your bones will start out weak. Impact activities such as running or even walking build bone. Non-weight bearing activities like swimming do not build bone. Using weights and doing resistance exercises also helps build bone.
Similarly, building muscle is done through exercise and strength training. Each year after 35 years old, the average person loses 0.5-1% of their muscle mass. If you do not work out, you will get weaker. Even if you work-out, you will still lose strength but not as quickly.
For bones, the most important and common fractures are the hip and the wrist. Leg work-outs especially for the quads are key to maintaining the hip. I like squats, biking, walking and if able running. If any of these hurt, find out why and don’t do them. See your local orthopedist if you develop pain or swelling.
To strengthen your arms, biceps and triceps are important. If your forearms don’t get tired working out, add wrist flexions and extensions with light weights. Wrist fractures are very common in patients older than 65 years old and can be prevented in many people by strength training.
Unfortunately, a common consequence of weak bones is compression fractures of the spine. When older people say they are shrinking it is often due to collapse of the bones of the spine from osteoporosis. Core strengthening and impact exercises can help prevent these fractures.
At any age, you need to eat well and exercise. If you don’t do both, you will get older quicker. You will become frail and more likely to die at a younger age. This is up to you. If you develop pain, don’t give up but find out what the problem is. Have a good doctor you trust available to help you maintain your good health.
By Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA
Director Orthopedic Surgery Westchester Sport & Spine at White Plains Hospital