Exercise is probably one of the most essential aspects of maintaining and building strong, healthy bones. Our bones need resistance exercises to help build muscle which in turn makes bones stronger. Balance exercises help to improve our coordination and stability and decrease our risk of falls. Impact exercises provide a mechanical load through the bone and stimulate new bone formation. Activities such as jogging, jumping, racket sports, dancing, hiking, or stair climbing are all examples of impact exercises. But what about walking? Is walking a mile or two a couple of times a week enough to build bone mass? It depends.

Walking is considered a low-impact exercise, which is great for our maturing joints, but may not be optimal for building bone. It depends on the amount of stress and impact you create when your foot hits the ground. If your walking consists of a leisurely stroll or a morning walk with your dog who wants to stop and sniff every other minute, then it is not enough to build strong bones. For walking to be beneficial, you need to walk several miles, at a good pace, 3-4 times a week. Think power-walking.

However, there is another caveat to exercise and bone density and that is that our bones accommodate to exercise. This means that they adapt to the exercise that they are doing and they only get strong enough to handle that particular exercise. Walking at the same pace, for the same amount of time, the same number of days a week will result in a minimal increase in bone density. To truly build bones, you need to be continually challenging them. You need to switch up your routine, switch up your speed, change the load through the bones to stimulate new bone formation.

Here are some tips to enhance your walks:

  • Pick up the pace. Walking briskly will increase the impact of your foot on the pavement and add some extra stress on your bones.

  • Find some hills. Walking up and down hills will increase and vary the impact.

  • Change up your stride. Add sideways walking, high knee stepping, or braiding periodically to change up your stride. Try doing one of these activities for 1-minute intervals for a total of 8 times during your walk.

  • Add modified jogging to your walk. Take “baby steps” but use a jogging motion. This gives a great impact when your foot hits the ground. Start slow, only jogging for 10-20 seconds at a time, 2-3 times during your walk for the first few weeks. Only attempt this if you have healthy joints and spine.

  • Try walking poles. Poles are a great way to promote better posture, add stability when walking outside or hiking over uneven terrain, and promote weight-bearing and stress through the upper body as well as the lower body during your walks.

  • Add some weight. To increase the bone-strengthening benefits of walking, consider adding a weight vest.

Wearing a weighted vest during exercise not only stimulates bone formation but also aids in improving lean muscle mass as well as balance. A study published in the journal Rheumatology International found walking 30 minutes, 3 times a week wearing a weighted vest stimulated bone synthesis, increased lean tissue mass, and improved dynamic balance in post-menopausal women with osteoporosis. 

For years I have been researching weight vests to find one that is comfortable and fits the female frame. Many vests are too large and bulky and don’t fit snugly to a woman’s smaller frame.

What to look for in a weight vest:

  • The vest should fit snugly. If it is too loose, it will move around while exercising and throw off your balance or possibly cause injury.

  • Get a variable weight vest, one that you can gradually add weight to. If you start off with a vest with a fixed amount of weight, most likely it will be too heavy at first and could flare up an old injury or create a new one.

  • Choose a vest which you can add enough weight to equal 5 to 8% of your body weight.

  • Choose a vest that has weights that are in 1/4 pound to 1/2 pound increments. The lower weight increments are best if you have arthritis or previous injuries.

  • Make sure the weights can be distributed evenly around all sides of the vest so there is even loading throughout the body.

  • I prefer a vest that has a comfortable abdominal strap that transfers weight from the shoulders to the trunk.

If you are just starting out with an exercise program for osteoporosis, don’t use any weight in your vest for the first several weeks, simply begin a walking program with the goal of walking 30-45 minutes, 5 days a week. Once you have accomplished that, you can begin to add weight to your vest. By adding weight gradually, you allow the body to accommodate the additional weight without risking injury. 

Here some guidelines to follow when adding weight to your vest:

  • START LOW and GO SLOW. Start off with 1/4 pound of weight in the back of the vest

  • Walk your normal routine with the vest on for 1-2 weeks before increasing the weight

  • Increase the weight by no more than 1/4 pound a week

  • Alter the position of the new weight so the weights are evenly balanced in the front and back of the vest, as well as side to side

  • Gradually work up to a weight that is equivalent to 4-8% of your body weight, this could take several months..maybe even a year!

  • If at any time you begin to feel pain or discomfort, discontinue the use of the vest

My favorite weight vest is through a company called Challenge Weighted Workoutwear.

It meets all the criteria above and is very comfortable to wear.

Check out their website at: https://challengeweightedworkoutwear.com/collections/weighted-vests

If you put in the code “Brady” at checkout you will receive $10 off the vest of your choice along with free shipping.

Although walking may not produce the same bone-building results as high-impact exercises, it is one of the best exercises for many people because it is convenient, one of the safest forms of exercise, easy on the body’s joints and helps to improve balance and reduce the risk of falling. Walking is also beneficial to the soul because it may mean spending special time with a friend, enjoying pretty scenery, and breathing in fresh air.

Precaution: If you have severe osteoporosis or have experienced a fracture due to osteoporosis please check with your healthcare practitioner prior to starting any exercise routine.

Reach out if you need help establishing an exercise routine that best meets your bone health needs.

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8 Lifestyle Changes for Better Bone Health

by Susan Brady

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