Exercise offers so many benefits, from losing weight to reducing the likelihood of cancer, you may overlook the very important role it plays in the health of your bones. Along with proper nutrition and bone health awareness, exercise is one of the main factors when it comes to building and maintaining healthy bones and the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
“Just like muscle, bone is a living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger,” says David Forstein, DO, an osteopathic physician from Greenville, South Carolina. “Bone mass typically peaks during the third decade of life. After that time, a person begins to lose bone mass, thereby increasing his or her risk of developing osteoporosis and sustaining fractures from falls.”
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help prevent injury and encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become weak and can break from a minor fall or, in serious cases, from a simple action such as a sneeze. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is a major health threat to over 52 million Americans.
Because about 85-90% of adult bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and 20 in boys, building strong bones is crucial in childhood and adolescent years. “Exercise is one of the most effective ways to not only build strong bones in those early years of life and beyond, but also in maintaining balance and coordination, which can prevent falls and related bone fractures,” says Dr. Forstein.
Exercising for Bone Health
But not just any type of exercise will do when it comes to your bones. “For bone health,” explains Dr. Forstein, “the best exercises are weight-bearing and resistance exercises.” Weight-bearing exercises are those in which your bones and muscles work against gravity. This is any exercise in which your feet and legs bear your weight. Jogging, walking, stair climbing, dancing and soccer are examples of weight-bearing exercise with different degrees of impact. Swimming and bicycling are not weight-bearing.
The second type of exercises is resistance exercises, or activities that use muscular strength to improve muscle mass and strengthen bone. These activities might include weight lifting with free weights or the use of resistance bands. “The benefits of weight-bearing and resistance exercises are site-specific,” says Dr. Forstein. “This means that you strengthen only the bones used directly in the exercise. Exercising the right elbow does not have any effect on the left hip. Therefore, it's a good idea to participate in a variety of weight-bearing and resistance exercises.”
Designing Your Workout
Dr. Forstein suggests following some principles of exercising for bone health and the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis:
Perform extension (backward-bending) exercises: Strengthening the back muscles is important for maintaining good posture. For those with osteoporosis, these exercises counteract the rounded posture often accompanying the disease.
Target areas most prone to fractures: For osteoporosis treatment and prevention, it is important that an exercise program target the areas most affected by the disease, which would be the spine, hips, and wrists.
Exercise needs to be continued to maintain benefits: Bone-mineral density gains from exercise are only maintained as long as the exercise is continued at the same level of intensity.
Resistance levels should be increased: Bone responds to the mechanical forces placed upon it. It is important to gradually increase the levels of resistance in order to continue to increase bone density.
Increase the weights slowly: Before you begin exercising with weights, it is important to perform the exercise without weights to make sure you can do it using proper mechanics and without pain. Gradually increase the amount of weight as your tolerance builds.
Balance exercises: You can reduce the risk of falling by performing balance exercises on a regular basis. Aside from weight-bearing and resistance exercising, there are some daily activities that are important in avoiding injury to bones. Dr. Forstein suggests the following activities: Sitting without slouching; bending from the hips; and stabilizing the back when sneezing and coughing. All three help to decrease stress on the lower and upper back as well as the neck regions and lessen the risk of injury and bone fracture.
Exercise, along with a proper diet, rich in calcium and vitamin D; avoiding smoking and excessive drinking; and talking to your health care provider, are all important factors in the overall health of your bones. Not only will it help reduce your risk or degree of osteoporosis, but it will improve your overall health and quality of life.