Exercise and Bone Health
Most people are familiar with many of the benefits of exercise, such as reducing the risk for heart disease and stroke, and preventing obesity. Perhaps not as well understood is the importance of regular physical activity in building and maintaining healthy bones.
With aging, bones can become very weak and fragile — a condition called osteoporosis. It often occurs in women after menopause, and in men in older age. This bone-thinning disease puts people at a greater risk for broken bones, which can seriously limit mobility and independence.
Exercise is important for building strong bones when we are younger, and it is essential for maintaining bone strength when we are older. Exercise works on bones much like it works on muscles — by making them stronger. Because bone is a living tissue, it changes in response to the forces placed upon it. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more cells and becoming more dense.
Another benefit of exercise is that it improves balance and coordination. This becomes especially important as we get older because it helps to prevent falls and the broken bones that may result.
Exercises for Strong Bones
There are many different types of exercises and all of them offer health benefits. The two types of exercise that are most effective for building strong bones are weightbearing exercise and strength-training exercise.
Weightbearing describes any activity you do on your feet that works your bones and muscles against gravity. When your feet and legs carry your body weight, more stress is placed on your bones, making your bones work harder.
Examples of weightbearing exercise include:
Brisk walking and hiking
Team sports, such as basketball and soccer
Higher impact activities, such as jogging and jumping rope, increase the weight on bones and provide more bone-strengthening benefits. However, people who are frail or who have already been diagnosed with thinning bone should talk to their doctors about the types of physical activity that would be best for them.
During strength-training activities, resistance is added to movement in order to make muscles work harder and, over time, become stronger. The most common strength training methods include using weight machines, working with free weights, or doing exercises that use your own body weight (push-ups, for example).
Although these resistance exercises focus on increasing muscle mass, they also put stress on bones and have bone-building capacity.
Other Forms of Exercise
Non-impact exercises, such as yoga or tai chi, are not as effective at strengthening bone, but provide significant flexibility and balance training benefits. Non-weightbearing exercise, such as swimming and cycling, do not increase bone mass, but are excellent choices to strengthen your heart and lungs.
If musculoskeletal health conditions, like arthritis, prevent impact or weightbearing activities, these are good alternatives.