How To Exercise For Stronger Bones

When thinking about fitness and exercise, weight and muscle are typically the first things that come to mind. However, a less associated but equally important byproduct of fitness is bone health. Like muscle, bone is living tissue that becomes stronger with exercise. Regular physical activity helps build and maintain healthy bones. In fact, inactivity causes loss of bone!

It is important to build strong bones when we are younger, and to maintain bone strength as we get older. Those who exercise regularly when they are younger generally achieve greater peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) than those who do not. For most, bone mass peaks around their thirties. After that time, we begin to lose bone. Aging, along with certain diseases and medications, can cause bones to become thin and fragile over time. This condition, called osteoporosis, puts people at a greater risk for broken bones, which can then limit your mobility and independence.

Therefore, regular exercise is key to preventing bone loss and osteoporosis, particularly as we get older. As we previously mentioned, bone is living tissue, so it changes over time in response to the forces placed upon it. So when you exercise regularly, your bones adapt by building more bone and becoming stronger.

Another benefit of exercise is that it can improve balance and coordination. This becomes more important as we age since it helps to prevent falls and any broken bones that may result.

Best Exercises to Prevent Bone Loss

While there are many different types of exercise that all offer health benefits, weight-bearing exercises and resistance training are the most effective for building strong bones.

Weight-Bearing Exercise

Weight-bearing exercise is any activity you do on your feet that works your bones and muscles against gravity. When you carry your body weight on your legs and feet, more stress is placed on your bones, which makes them work harder. Practicing weight-bearing exercise after young adulthood can strengthen bone as well as prevent further bone loss.

Examples of weight-bearing exercise include brisk walking, hiking, jogging or running, climbing stairs, dancing, jumping rope, and many sports such as tennis, badminton, pickleball, basketball, soccer, volleyball and more.

Higher impact activities increase the weight on bones and provide more bone-strengthening benefits. High-impact weight-bearing exercises are the ones that include more intense movements such as jumping, skipping, jogging or hopping, and are the most beneficial for preventing bone loss at the hip and spine regions. Greater benefits have been found with exercise programs that incorporate a combination of resistance training with high-impact exercises.
While high-impact training can be useful for building stronger bones, it may not be safe for those who are frail, already have osteoporosis and are at risk for bone fractures, or have already been diagnosed with thinning bone.

Low-impact weight-bearing exercises such as walking, stair climbing, or lower-impact aerobic fitness classes may be the safer alternative for those who are unable to do high-impact training due to osteoporosis, age, or other conditions. While low-impact training alone may not be enough to prevent bone loss, it can still reduce the risk for falls and thus prevent fractures. Also, low-impact training can be combined with resistance training to further support bone health.

Resistance Training

Resistance exercises can be performed with machines, free weights, bands, or body weight, and have positive effects on strengthening bones. During these exercises, resistance is added to movement in order to make muscles work harder and become stronger. Although resistance exercises do focus on increasing muscle mass, they also put stress on bones to have bone-building capacity. In addition to exercises including weight machines and free weights, you can incorporate exercises that use your own body weight (such as push-ups), or add elastic bands to add resistance to exercises.

Exercises to improve bone strength are site-specific. For example, walking can improve bone strength in the legs and spine, but not in the wrist. Therefore, it is important to target the specific bone sites you are looking to strengthen. Since the hip, spine, and forearm are the most susceptive to fractures due to osteoporosis, one should focus on weighted exercises that specifically involve action at those joints or regions. Some suggested exercises for improvement in these areas include a weighted squat, leg press, leg extension, hamstring curl, hip extension, back extension, bench press, shoulder press, bicep curl, and tricep extension.

A general guideline is to exercise each major muscle group at least twice a week. Be sure to rest for a full day between sessions.