The Australian Women's Weekly
Start training for bones
For healthy bones, you’ve got to “use it or lose it,” says Belinda Beck, a professor in the School of Allied Health Sciences at Griffith University and founder of The Bone Clinic in Queensland. “What typically happens is that when people get an osteoporosis diagnosis, the therapeutic approach from your GP will likely be to recommend medication to increase bone mass, but not everyone wants to take it,” says Professor Beck, whose research is focused on forms of exercise targeted specifically at bone. “I call bone the princess tissue because if you’re looking after your heart or lungs or brain or metabolism, doing anything at all will be of benefit. But that’s not the case with bone. You can’t go for a nice long walk or a ride on your bike: it doesn’t do anything for bone.”
What Professor Beck’s research has revealed is that to improve bone density with exercise, it has to be a specific type of exercise that overloads the bone. Historically, she says, research trials investigating the link between exercise and bone density shied away from participants doing anything that created too much strain, “and no one was willing to risk finding out whether high-intensity lifting was able to help,” says
Professor Beck, who decided to find out with a careful, monitored studies. The clinical trials that followed were able to show that a specific set of high intensity resistance and impact training was effective at improving bones, as well and strength and function, and that it was safe.
“This represents a change in what we believed was possible,” she says. “We’ve shown that the bones and muscles adapt to this change – it never ceases to amaze me what people in our clinic can lift.”
In a nutshell, she describes the program as involving barbell lifting and balance training, but won’t divulge much more “because it’s crucial that people are monitored to avoid injury,” she says. That’s why she opened The Bone Clinic, where anyone can train and be part of ongoing research. She also made the “Onero” program available to physiotherapists and accredited exercise physiologists.
“One of the most interesting things we’ve found is that the more frail people are, the more they respond,” says Professor Beck, who adds that watching it change people’s lives is so fulfilling. “As participants build strength, they’re able to garden for the first time in years, start looking after their grandchildren again, and even walk without a walker.”