Regular exercise has been shown to improve bone density resulting in increasing its strength and resilience. In conjunction with increasing calcium and vitamin D, weight bearing exercises are commonly recommended for those that experience osteoporosis or osteopenia. However, there is still conjecture as to the best type of exercise and how often one should exercise to get optimal results for healthy bones.
How does weight bearing exercise impact bones?
The premise of weight bearing exercises is to add bone mass and prevent further bone loss. Placing sufficient force through bones such as the spine, hip and leg create a chemical cascade to get cells known as osteocytes and osteoblasts to create and lay down more bony material. This process not only prevents further bone loss but in fact can improve bone density.
What is the best type of weight bearing exercise?
In order to optimally improve bone density, it has been shown that high impact and dynamic loading is the most efficient way to create improvements in bone density. Research shows that static and continuous weight bearing has the capacity to actually desensitise the bone cells required for bone growth. In the past we had considered exercises such as walking beneficial for bone health, however, depending on your exercise history it often isn’t enough to promote bone cells.
For bone cells to work most effectively, weight bearing exercises that incorporate short periods of vigorous and high intensity exercises are most effective. This includes explosive exercises such as jumping, power lifting and running.
What does this mean for me?
It is never too late to start to commence exercises focussing on bone health. Ensure that you perform high impact bone health exercises at least two to three times a week with at least a day of rest in between. Importantly, high impact exercises are all relative depending on your current exercise history.
If you are currently not performing any weight bearing exercises or not actively exercising on a regular basis, begin adding any weight bearing exercises such as walking. Consider walking as briskly as possible to maximise weight bearing force or choose an undulating course that involves up and down hills to vary the ground reaction forces throughout your walk.
If you are already performing resistance or strength exercises, consider tweaking your weight bearing exercises to include an explosive element to increase ground reaction forces. For example, adding a faster and quicker phase in the upwards direction of a squat or lunge has been shown to increase force.
Jumping or skipping are an advanced option to incorporate high intensity exercises.
However, whilst higher impact exercise is beneficial for bone health, it places increased stress and strain through other structures such as tendons, muscles and ligaments. If high impact exercises are commenced too quickly, there is a risk of overloading and injuring soft tissue structures.
Your trusted exercise professional such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist is able to develop a safe and effective exercise program for your bone health based on your medical and exercise history.
If you are managing osteoporosis or osteopenia, we would love to hear about your exercise program. Drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about bone health in Episode 27 of The Better Ageing Podcast:
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