You have heard that weight bearing exercises are essential for keeping bones strong, but do you know why? Bone, like every tissue in the body, is constantly repairing and remodeling itself. When bones are stressed, they respond by making new cells, which in turn makes the bone denser and stronger. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking and running make you work against gravity, causing impact and force through the bones, which in turn stimulates new bone formation.
High impact exercises such as running, jumping, dancing, high-impact aerobics, stair climbing, tennis, and hiking are most effective in building bone and keeping bones strong. However, if you have broken a bone due to osteoporosis or are at risk of breaking a bone, you may need to choose a lower impact exercise. Low impact exercises include fast walking on a treadmill or outdoors, using exercise machines like the elliptical trainer or stair stepper and doing low-impact aerobics. Exercises such as swimming and cycling are considered non-weight bearing exercises and may actually lead to a decrease in bone density. These exercises provide little impact through the bone and thus don’t stimulate new bone formation.
Weight lifting has also shown to be beneficial to increasing bone density and preventing bone loss. A strong muscle contraction applies a mechanical force to the bone which begins the process of bone remodeling. Strength training exercises are also beneficial because a force can be placed on a certain region of the skeleton. With osteoporosis, the sites of fractures that are most devastating are the spine and hip. Performing squats, lunges, leg extensions are particularly beneficial in strengthening the bones in the hips and lower spine. Doing pushups, bicep curls and triceps extensions places the force on the arms, the upper spine and the ribs. Multiple repetitions with a challenging load are recommended for optimal stimulation of the bone remodeling process. However, as with any exercise program, slow progression is important to avoid injury.
In general, activities that involve impact and stress are the most effective way to improve bone health. It is never too late to start a bone-healthy exercise program, even if you already have osteoporosis or are at risk of developing osteoporosis. However, if you have osteoporosis it is important to work with a specialist that can guide you to what activities are safe for you, teach you how to stretch and strengthen muscles safely and learn the proper progression of activity. Let me help you develop a safe and effective exercise program to strengthening and maintain strong, healthy bones.
Up next time, the importance of balance, coordination and flexibility for older adults and people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.