The Recipe for Healthy Bones: Regular Exercise

Overall, no matter what your age, the recipe for bone health is simple for both men and women:

  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D in your daily diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices
  • Talk to your physician about your bone health

Last month, we talked about the first ingredient, getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Today, we’re going to talk about ingredient #2: regular exercise.

Exercise is important for both building and maintaining bone density. The two types of exercises that are crucial for bone health are weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Weight-bearing exercises include activities that make you move against gravity.  These exercises can be high-impact or low-impact.

  • High-impact weight-bearing exercise helps build bone tissue.  If you have broken a bone due to osteoporosis or are at risk of breaking a bone, you may need to avoid high-impact exercises. If you have diagnosed osteopenia or osteoporosis, you should always consult with your doctor for a prescribed exercise program. Examples of high-impact weight-bearing exercises are dancing, jogging, jumping rope, high-impact aerobics, and tennis.
  • Low-impact weight-bearing exercises can also help keep bones strong and are a safe alternative if you are unable to participate in high-impact activities. Examples of low-impact weight-bearing exercises are low-impact aerobics, use of elliptical training machines or stair-step machines, and walking on a treadmill or outside.

Muscle-strengthening exercises include activities in which you move your body, a weight, or some other resistance against gravity.  These include lifting weights, using elastic exercise bands, and functional movements such as standing and rising on your toes.  In addition, Yoga and Pilates can also improve strength, balance, and flexibility.  However, it is important to note that certain positions may not be safe for those with osteoporosis.  For example, bending forward may increase the chance of breaking a bone in the spine. A physical therapist can help you learn which exercises are safe and appropriate for you.

Non-impact exercises can help improve balance, posture and how well you move in everyday activities.  These exercises can help increase muscle strength and decrease the risk of falls and broken bones.

  • Balance exercises strengthen the legs, such as Tai Chi.
  • Posture exercises reduce rounded or “sloping” shoulders and help prevent breaking a bone in the spine.
  • Functional exercises improve how well you move with everyday activities and decrease your chance of falling and breaking a bone. A physical therapist can teach you these exercises as well.

In the next segment of the osteoporosis series, we will continue with how to start a new exercise program and discuss just how much of each type of exercise is needed each week.

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