In an age of advanced drugs and treatments for bone loss, simple exercise programs that can prevent and restore bone density are often overlooked. Certain ways to work out and move your body can create the weight-bearing load your bones need to get stronger. Healthy bones are vital at every age, and diet and exercise can play a significant part in treating and preventing osteoporosis. Not only does exercise improve your bone health, it can improve coordination, muscle strength, balance, and contribute to overall better health.
Just like your muscles, bone is a living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. For most individuals, bone mass peaks around age 30, and after that time can start to lessen. Women past the age of 20 can help prevent bone loss with regular exercises to maintain muscle strength, balance, and coordination. Older adults who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis can also benefit from exercise to help prevent falls and fractures.
There are two different types of exercises that are critical for building and maintaining bone density—weight-bearing exercises and muscle-strengthening exercises.
Weight-bearing exercises are activities that entail moving against gravity while staying upright. These exercises help build bones and keep them strong. Examples of high-impact weight-bearing exercises include dancing, aerobics, hiking, jogging or running, jumping rope, tennis, and stair climbing. Low-impact weight-bearing exercises are also effective in keeping bones strong and are a safe alternative for individuals who cannot do high-impact exercises. Examples of great low-impact exercises are elliptical training machines, stair-step machines, walking on a treadmill or outside, and low-impact aerobics. In the large-scale Nurses’ Health Study of more than 60,000 postmenopausal women, those who walked briskly at least four times per week were at much lower risk of hip fractures (an indirect but practical indicator of bone health) than the women who walked less often, more slowly, or not at all.
Muscle-strengthening exercises are activities where you move your body, a weight, or another resistance against gravity. These include using weight machines, lifting free weights, using elastic exercise bands, lifting your own body weight, and other functional movements such as rising up on your toes or standing. Yoga and Pilates are great muscle-strengthening exercises that improve balance and flexibility.
Non-impact exercises can also help improve balance as well, in addition improve your posture and how well you carry out everyday activities. These exercises can decrease risk of broken bones and falls. Examples include balance exercises that strengthen your legs, including Tai Chi, and functional exercises that improve how well you move and accomplish everyday activities, like getting up from a chair or climbing stairs.
If you haven’t exercised in a while or don’t exercise frequently, check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. If you are at risk for breaking a bone, work with your physical therapist to come up with a safe exercise program.
The nutritional aspects of fostering bone health, such as getting enough calcium are also important. When it comes to building bone strength, vitamin D and calcium are the two key nutrients. Calcium supports teeth and bone structure, while vitamin D improves bone growth and calcium absorption. These nutrients help as you age, preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures. Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fish, dairy, fruits and vegetables should provide enough of the nutrients you need every day. If you are not getting the recommended amount from food alone, a multivitamin or supplement may be helpful. Dairy products, such as low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are great sources of calcium. Canned sardines and salmon are also good choices, as well as fatty varieties of fish such as mackerel, tuna, and sardines. Collard greens, turnip greens, kale, okra, cabbage, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and broccoli are great sources of calcium. Research has found that olive oil, blueberries, and foods rich in omega 3’s like flaxseed oil may also have bone boosting benefits.
To learn more about building bone strength, please download our health guide here.