How to exercise for bone health
You know that nutrition plays a vital role in bone health, but did you know exercise does, too?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, resistance exercises and weight-bearing exercises are the best forms of exercise for your bones. Resistance, or strength training, challenges your muscles by working against a form of resistance (dumbbells, elastic bands, even bodyweight). Weight-bearing exercises are any activity in which your body weight is working against gravity. Also important is impact: hopping, jumping, and other actions that deliver force.
Exercises like these strengthen bones by putting stress on them. The pushing and pulling, jostling, and jolting that comes from strength training or moving your body with some level of force signals to your body that your bones need reinforcement. As a result, people who engage in these activities have stronger, denser bones.
3 exercises to support stronger bones
Running is a weight-bearing and high-impact exercise. In fact, just one minute of running a day has been linked to improved bone health in women!
From a study of bone health and long-term exercise comparing post-menopausal lifetime female athletes who ran (weight-bearing exercise) versus those who swam (non-weight bearing):
“The high level of physical activity observed in female athletes is associated with improved muscle mass, BMD [bone mineral density] and BMC [bone mineral content], and physical activity during youth seems to have a beneficial effect on bone mass and helps to prevent bone loss due to aging.”
While running is a great sport for healthy individuals looking to bolster their bones, it may not be wise for those already concerned about osteoporosis. It can be far too easy for already-brittle bones to fracture under the impact of running.
Weight lifting and other forms of strength training have been proven to slow bone loss and even build bone. One exercise intervention program intending to illustrate the importance of strength training for bone health focused on high-intensity resistance and impact training in osteoporotic women. This involved (carefully supervised) vigorous jumping and compound weight lifting movements:
- -Overhead press
- -Back squat
The results? A maintenance effect on bone mineral density and significant improvements for bone mineral composition and an increase in thickness and volume of cortical bone — the protective, exterior layer of bone. This means, not only was the bone stronger, but it was stronger at “clinically relevant sites,” or, places that are more likely to cause problems for osteoporotic patients.
Plus, participants benefited from improved stature (they got a little taller!) and functional performance.
Strength training has other added benefits, too: improved muscle function, improved stability and balance, and improved overall strength has the effect of helping you get around in the world more easily and safely. In other words, it can reduce the likelihood of injuries and falls.
Weight lifting isn’t the only option you have for strength training — bodyweight exercises like pushups can also be highly effective.
Jumping and bouncing
This is a bit of a cheat category, as it spans any number of activities. From playing tennis to dancing to jumping rope or using a rebounder (those mini trampolines), research shows that weight-bearing aerobic activity helps to strengthen both bones and muscles.
Bellicon, the maker of a popular mini-trampoline, recently published a handy summary of articles confirming the bone health benefits of bouncing. Here are some of the findings:
- -Aerobic dance, both on a wooden floor or on a mini trampoline, improves bone formation and decreases bone resorption, as well as benefits overall fitness
- -Those who use trampolines as part of their training regimen have bigger, stronger bones with better bone mineral density
Other weight-bearing aerobic activities include stair climbing and playing team sports like volleyball or basketball. And if you’re not a fan of any of the above, this Harvard Health article has some great guidelines for how to know if the activities you’re into will help build up your bones.
Exercise is key to building strong bones during our growing years, as well as while we age. Once bone is lost, it’s difficult to rebuild, so make bone-building exercise part of your daily routine, along with your bone support supplements, to help your bones stay in good shape.
Strength Training Builds More Than Muscles. Oct 2021. Harvard Health Publishing.
Thompson, Dixie L. PhD., FACSM. Exercise and Bone Health. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. 14.5: 4. (2010). doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e3181ed574f. Accessed online Nov. 17, 2021.
Andreoli, A., Celi, M., Volpe, S. et al. Long-term effect of exercise on bone mineral density and body composition in post-menopausal ex-elite athletes: a retrospective study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 66: 69–74 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2011.104. Accessed online Nov. 17, 2021.
Victoria H Stiles, Brad S Metcalf, Karen M Knapp, Alex V Rowlands, A small amount of precisely measured high-intensity habitual physical activity predicts bone health in pre- and post-menopausal women in UK Biobank, International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 46.6: 1847–1856. (2017). https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyx080. Accessed online Nov. 17, 2021.
Watson, S.L., Weeks, B.K., Weis, L.J., Harding, A.T., Horan, S.A. and Beck, B.R. High-Intensity Resistance and Impact Training Improves Bone Mineral Density and Physical Function in Postmenopausal Women With Osteopenia and Osteoporosis: The LIFTMOR Randomized Controlled Trial. J Bone Miner Res. 33: 211-220. (2018). https://doi.org/10.1002/jbmr.3284. Accessed online Nov. 17, 2021.
Lauren A. Burt, John D. Schipilow, Steven K. Boyd. Competitive trampolining influences trabecular bone structure, bone size, and bone strength. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 5.4: 469-475. (2016) ISSN 2095-2546, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2015.01.007. Accessed online Nov. 17, 2021.
Sukkeaw W, Kritpet T, Bunyaratavej N. A Comparison between the Effects of Aerobic Dance Training on Mini-Trampoline and Hard Wooden Surface on Bone Resorption, Health-Related Physical Fitness, Balance, and Foot Plantar Pressure in Thai Working Women. J Med Assoc Thai. (2015) ;98 Suppl 8:S58-S64. Accessed online Nov. 17, 2021.