Exercising for stronger bones
Courtesy of the NHS
The best exercises for building and maintaining strong bones are weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening activities.
Weight-bearing exercises are any activity performed standing up, such as walking, running and dancing. When your feet and legs support your weight, your bones have to work harder, making them stronger.
Muscle-strengthening exercises are any activity that requires your muscles to work harder than normal, like lifting weights. This type of resistance exercise works the tendons that attach muscle to bone, which in turn boosts bone strength.
It must be stressed that all forms of physical activity will help to keep your bones fit for purpose and reduce the risk of falling.
Good balance, co-ordination and stamina, as well as the confidence that comes from being regularly active, will all reduce your chance of a fall.
Key bone-building years
The key bone-building years are those up to our mid-20s, when the skeleton is growing. This is a critical period during which we have the opportunity to build as much bone as possible to last us for a lifetime.The gains achieved during youth put the skeleton in a better position to withstand the bone loss that occurs with age.
After about 35, bone loss gradually increases as part of the natural ageing process.
However, regular physical activity, including bone-friendly exercises, will help keep bones strong and slow the rate of bone loss, even in people with osteoporosis. Leading an active lifestyle can halve your risk of breaking a bone, particularly in your hip, according to Age UK.
High impact exercises
For bone strength, long exercise sessions are not always necessary and brief bouts of high impact exercise are sufficient. High impact exercises, which are anything involving running or jumping, provide a jolt to the skeleton, including the hips and spine.
“A few jolts are enough to stimulate the bone-strengthening process in the body,” says Sarah Leyland of the National Osteoporisis Society. For example, running up 10 steps provides 10 jolts on the way up and 10 jolts on the way down. Do this five times a day and you have clocked up 100 jolts, which is likely to produce a positive effect on bone strength.
You can also target specific bones. Research found the bones in the serving arm of tennis pros were stronger than in their non-serving arm. So make sure you get the balance right!
“Beyond our 30s, physical activity is unlikely to strengthen bones but it will help reduce the rate of natural bone loss,” says Leyland.
High impact and bending exercises while lifting heavy loads place a lot of stress on the bones in the spine and are not recommended for people at risk of a fracture.
However, low impact activities, such as walking and step machines may help slow the rate of bone loss and improve your balance and muscle strength, which will help reduce your risk of falling.
Bone loss years
To reduce the rate of natural bone loss that occurs from age 35 onwards, aim to do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.
Examples of suitable activities for adults include:
• brisk walking, including Nordic walking
• moderate-resistance weightlifting
• stair climbing
• carrying or moving heavy loads such as groceries
• exercising with resistance bands
• heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling
• cross-training machines