Is walking good enough to build strong bones? Studies have shown mixed results on the benefits of walking for increasing bone density.
To keep bones healthy and strong, you need to continually stress the bones through activity. Activities that are weight bearing and involve impact are the most useful for increasing or maintaining bone mass. Examples of high-impact weight-bearing activities include jogging, climbing stairs, hiking up and down hills, aerobic dancing, and racket sports. Walking is considered to be a low impact exercise resulting in less stress to the bones and that is why some suggest that walking alone will not increase bone density.
The key to the bone strengthening properties of walking is the amount of positive stress and impact you create with your stride. Although regular walking doesn’t appear to have significant effect on preservation of bone mineral density, fast walking or power walking does appear to have a positive affect on bone. It has been shown that walking 3 miles, 4 days a week, at a pace of greater than 3.8 mph, can increase leg muscle mass and preserve bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. (1)
For those just beginning a walking program, just the impact of your foot hitting the ground will initially be enough to generate stress and new bone formation. But for those who have been walking for a while at the same pace and distance, your bones may have adapted to the stress of your exercise routine, reducing further bone building potential.
If you have been walking for a while, here are some ways to vary your routine to increase stress on the bones and improve the bone building benefits of walking.
Walk your way to Stronger Bones
Pick up the pace. Walking briskly will increase the impact of your foot on the pavement and add some extra stress on your bones.
Walk up and down hills will increase and vary the impact.
Add backwards or sideways walking, high knee stepping, or periodically increase your stride length. 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 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.
Add some weight. To increase the bone strengthening benefits of walking, you can add a weight vest or place a small amount of weight in a securely tied backpack. Start off with 1 pound of weight and then gradually increase the weight over the next several months to a maximum of 10 pounds.
Try walking poles. They are a great way to promote better posture, add in balance when walking outside or hiking over uneven terrain, and promote weight bearing and stress through the upper body as well as the lower body when walking.
Winter is coming! Move inside to a treadmill if the outdoors become too cold or icy. Treadmills have incredible versatility, offering different options for speed, incline, and training programs.
If at any time you feel pain in your ankles, knees, hip or back with any of these new activities, stop and go back to your regular walking.
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.
It can be confusing to know what the right exercise is for you and your body. I can help you get started or show you how to maximize the bone building benefits of the exercises you are doing currently.
*If you have serious medical problems, check with your health care provider before starting any exercise program.
1. Borer, K. T., Fogleman, K., Gross, M., New, J. M., & Dengel, D. (2007). Walking intensity for postmenopausal bone mineral preservation and accrual. Bone,41(4), 713-721. doi:10.1016/j.bone.2007.06.009