Strength training and bone density: what you need to know

Strength training can improve bone density and, in turn, prevent many health conditions or stop them from worsening. Here’s all you need to know.

There are many benefits of strength training, and it should be considered an integral part of any exercise regime, especially as we get older. And the benefits become even more valuable, as weight-bearing activity can help prevent many health problems. 

As well as helping with weight loss, improved muscle tone and better mobility, strength training also increases bone density. As we age, fragility can become an issue. A lower bone mineral density is linked to increased fractures, and, in turn, this can lead to reduced mobility and have an impact on confidence. However, a loss of bone density can be halted by introducing strength training. 

Woman lifting a pair of dumbbellsCredit: Shutterstock / LightField Studios

How does bone health deteriorate?

Bone density – or bone mineral density (BMD) – is often measured through a DEXA scan. This measures the thickness – and therefore strength – of your bones. A DEXA scan usually measures the density of the bones in the spine and hip – both are areas that are subject to degeneration as we age. This is particularly prevalent in menopausal (and beyond) women, as the lack of oestrogen can contribute to a weakening of the bones. 

Kathryn Harper is an osteopath at Walnut Grove Clinic in Portishead, Somerset. She explains that there are two key cells when it comes to bone health. 

“In terms of bone health, you’ve got the osteoblasts that create new bone tissue, and then the osteoclasts that break down the old bone tissue to make room for the new lot. Naturally, over time, you’re going to lose an element of those cells, and then you’re more inclined to develop osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis. And then that leads to a higher risk of fractures if you fall.”

General wear and tear is an inevitable part of the ageing process. After all, our bodies have been working hard for many years. How we age is within our control, though. Inactivity leads to inertia, and neither are beneficial for us.

Although this is an article about bone health, it’s important to remember that our mental wellbeing is intrinsically linked to our physical health too. More often than not, we nearly always feel better after a good walk, bike ride, or just moving about and being active. If we can keep in mind that exercise is improving our long-term wellbeing, we will be rewarded with the health benefits. 


What is strength training?

Strength training involves working against some form of resistance – and that doesn’t necessarily mean lifting heavy weights. Also called resistance training, here are a few variations: 

You can also use resistance bands instead of dumbbells for several different moves. Many gyms or leisure centres offer classes that teach safe and effective strength training, and some will have specific ones tailored for the over-50s. 

How can strength training help increase bone density?

“Strength training slows down the loss of bone density over time,” Harper explains.

“Weight training increases density because it increases the osteoblasts (that create new bone tissue). Weight-bearing activities also have an effect on the muscles and the tendons, making them stronger. They pull on the bones as we move, which will also stimulate the osteoblast production. Strength training also increases calcium deposits, again, meaning that your bones will be stronger and, because they’ll be denser, less likely to fracture.” 

Sarcopenia – loss of muscle mass – is another issue as we age. Again, it can be kept at bay with any form of regular resistance exercise.

Studies have shown that sarcopenia and loss of bone density are closely linked, and the best way to deal with these issues is to use some form of resistance (bodyweight, dumbbells or bands) as we exercise. 

How often should I strength train?

The NHS recommends that we try to do some form of activity that strengthens the joints at least twice a week. Of course, if you want to do more than that, you can.

Always start at a level that’s comfortable for you. For example, if your lifestyle is very sedentary, standing and sitting from a chair is a great way to start learning squats and building strength in your legs. 

If you are already active – a keen runner or swimmer, for example – you may be more comfortable using dumbbells at home or heading to a gym.

Many personal trainers will offer free or reduced price trials, and most (if they’re anything like me) will be delighted to see someone wanting to improve their health and will happily offer free advice. 

Harper recommends adding balance work into anything you do as a great way to help build confidence and lessen the fear of falling: “Exercises like single leg lifts or lunges improve your balance, and that sort of training can help you live longer, because it reduces your risk of falls. 

“You’re less likely to fall if your proprioception (your sense of spatial awareness) and balance are good. So you’re reducing that risk plus making your bones and muscles stronger.” 

As well as balance exercises, any moves that replicate activities of daily life (things we do every day) are also useful.

  • Squats mimic us getting in and out of a chair or off the toilet.
  • Pressing a weight overhead is the same as lifting something up to a high cupboard.
  • Farmers’ walks – carrying two weights either side and walking – are good practice for carrying shopping bags. In time, these exercises help to make life easier. 

Have I left it too late to start?

Absolutely not! Whether you’re 50 or 100, any activity is always better than none. You can reap the benefits of strength training at any age.

If you’ve noticed your mobility decreasing, or you’ve had a fall and suffered a fracture, that’s even more reason to start, because it will help – I promise you. You’ll be amazed at how quickly things can turn around.

I’m not saying you’ll wake up one day and be back to where you were when you were 21, but you will notice activities like reaching overhead become less difficult or there’s a reduction in joint pain. Maybe getting in and out of the car will become easier, or you can play football with the grandchildren without getting too tired or feeling your muscles getting sore. 

Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her


Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky is passionate about Kettlebell training, and runs a regular kettlebell club in the local community. Prior to this, she worked as a Fitness manager in a local gym. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain.

Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

Away from work, Becky unsurprisingly enjoys exercise, with a focus on lifting weights, kettlebells, and Olympic rings. She loves watching theatre, swimming, and reading a good book. She has three teenage children and enjoys spending time with them, preferably on a Cornish beach.

  • twitter
  • instagram