Exercise and Bone Health

At any age and any stage of life, bone health is a necessity, but most do not properly take care of their bones. This can create immediate issues or more serious problems – such as osteoporosis – later on. Most people are aware of how exercise benefits your health in terms of preventing obesity or heart issues, but not all think about how it can help strengthen your bones and joints.

Bones become very fragile as aging occurs, often leading to osteoporosis This most often occurs in women after menopause and in older men. Osteoporosis puts affected people at a greater risk for broken bones. It is much easier to prevent this condition if one exercises at a younger age. Exercise helps make bones stronger – as bone is a living tissue, it changes in response to the forces placed upon it. In addition to strengthening bones, exercise can assist in balance and coordination. These become especially important, as we get older to help prevent the falls that can break bones in the first place.

Weightbearing exercise describes any activity you do on your feet which works your bones and muscles against gravity. This includes exercises such as walking, hiking, running, or team sports (i.e. soccer or basketball). Higher impact activities like jogging increase the weight on bones, providing more bone strengthening benefits. However these activities carry more risk for those who have already been diagnosed with thinning bones.

Strength-training exercise includes activities that add resistance to movement in order to make muscles work harder. Weight machines, free weights, or performing exercises that use your own body weight are the most common strength-training techniques. Although these exercises focus on increasing muscle mass, they also put stress on bones and help build bone strength as well.

Non-impact exercises like yoga and tai-chi are not quite as effective at strengthening bone. However, they provide significant flexibility and balance training benefits. These are good alternatives if musculoskeletal health conditions prevent one from doing impact or weight-bearing activities

Effective exercise regimens for bone health include 30 minutes of weight-bearing activity, four or more days a week. There are a variety of options, so choose the activity that you enjoy and will help you stay motivated. If you are a beginner, a 10-minute brisk walk three times a day is a great way to begin a bone-strengthening exercise program.

In general, an effective strength-training program involves exercising each major muscle group at least twice a week. Make sure you rest for a full day in between strength sessions. For total benefits, add flexibility and balance training to the mix – this includes stretching at the end of all exercises sessions for mental relaxation, ability to move easily, and reduce your overall risk for injury.

Reference: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, “Exercise and Bone Health,” May 2012, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00674