Bone health is a prevalent concern for many. When bone density reaches low levels, the risk for fracture increases and, for the aging population, that often translates into high-risk for dependent living and decreased lifespan. Whether you’re young or old, working on your bone strength is a good idea!
So, how can one preserve their bone health? How can one improve their bone density?
One way: bone-strengthening exercises.
The Basics of Exercise and Bone Health
The reigning theory for exercise and bone health is this…
Our bones adapt their structure when they experience physical strain. On the flip side, they also adapt their structure when they don’t experience physical strain.
It’s the classic, “use it or lose it.” Liken this to your muscles: if you work out, they will either maintain or improve their strength and size; if you don’t, they will get weaker and smaller.
The problem is, unlike our muscles, we can’t actually tell how are bones are doing unless we get tested (e.g., a bone density scan) or until a bone breaks.
That being said, let’s choose to place physical strain on our bodies while we can!
What kind of exercise should you do?
Weight-bearing, high-impact exercise has the best chance of stimulating our bones.
While there are many weight-bearing, high-impact exercises you can do, today we’re going to focus on three simple ones that you can do (almost) anywhere with minimal equipment. Additionally, we’ll give you practical tips on how to make each easier and more gentle as well as more challenging!
1. Walk, jog, run.
Depending on your ability, the act of walking might just be the simplest bone-loading activity you can do. Each time your heels strike the ground in front of you, force is transmitted and absorbed by your bones. If you’re doubting that the amount of force that you experience during walking is enough to improve your bone density…you wouldn’t be wrong!
Researchers have found that, in most cases, habitual walking does more to preserve bone density rather than build it.
This is great news for those who aren’t able to perform moderate- to high-intensity exercise or bear heavy loads of weight. Walking can be a good way to introduce exercise to your body and still achieve benefits. After all, maintaining bone density is much better than losing it!
For those that can speed up their walk, even better!
Those same researchers concluded that fast walking, jogging, and running result in high enough compressive and tensile strains to stimulate bone improvements at the femur near the hip joint. The more impact experienced during activity, the more stimulation your bone-strengthening cells receive!
2. Squat, squat, squat.
The squat position is one of the most functional movements of the human body. Similar to walking, squatting without weight doesn’t involve much impact on our bones but undoubtedly has its benefits, such as muscle endurance, if you aren’t able to perform exercises with added weight.
If you’re not comfortable with squatting, you can start with the “sit-to-stand” exercise and progress to shallow squats while holding onto a chair for support.
Want to make the squat more of a bone-loading exercise?
Here are some ways to challenge you and your bones:
- wear a weighted vest
- hold a dumbbell, kettlebell, bar, plate, etc.
- stand on a vibration plate
3. Add a jump to that squat!
Note: If you are at high risk for fracture and/or have other joint-related conditions, you’ll want to check with your doctor or physical therapist before introducing jumps to your exercise routine.
The level of impact experienced from both the propulsion and landing phases of a jump are terrific for bone stimulation.
Nervous about jumping? Brace yourself by performing tiny jumps while holding onto something stationary and stable, like a table or railing.
For added load, keep that weight vest on!
You’ll quickly find that adding jumps to your workout will get your heart rate up. This increased blood flow is great news for your bones as they work to repair and build up bone density. Try adding these bone-strengthening exercises to your weekly routine!