Regular physical activity and exercise plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones and improving bone density. The prevention of osteoporotic fracture with exercise requires a two-pronged approach – maximisation of bone strength and the minimisation of falls.
Exercise must be regular and ongoing to have a good benefit as our bones become stronger when a certain amount of impact or extra strain is placed on them every day.
Exercise and its Effects
The specific goals of exercising for bone health change throughout life; from building maximum bone strength in childhood and adolescence, optimising muscle and bone strength in young adulthood, to reducing bone loss in old age. Exercise in childhood can increase bone density and structure to maximise peak bone strength, which helps keep bones strong for longer in adulthood.
Bone density is maintained or starts to decrease very gradually when a person reaches their 30-40s although increases are still possible during middle adulthood. Following a regular exercise regime can maintain or increase (1-3%) bone density and improve cardiovascular health and fitness. Resistance training can also improve muscle mass and strength.
For women in the post-menopausal phase, around the age of 45 years, bone loss begins to increase to 1-2% per year. Doing regular exercise can help maintain bone strength along with slowing down the rate of bone loss following menopause.
The Right Kind of Exercise to Prevent Osteoporosis
There are specific types of exercises that are good for bones.
Brisk walking, jogging and stair climbing
These are weight-bearing aerobic exercise that are done while on your feet so you bear your own weight.
Progressive resistance training
Also known as load-bearing exercises, they help keep bones strong by causing the muscles and tendons to pull on the bones, which in turn stimulates bone cells to produce more bone. You can try resistance training with dumbbells, barbells or machines.
In terms of bone health of young adults, weight-bearing activities such as basketball, volleyball and gymnastics are more effective than weight-supported activities such as swimming and cycling. Perform activities that will increase muscle strength, such as running, hopping, or skipping games. Select activities that work all muscle groups like gymnastics.
Aerobics and Strength Training
After puberty, bone mineral density (BMD) is not easily augmented. The main role of exercise in young adults and pre-menopausal women, therefore, is to maintain BMD rather than to increase it. For pre-menopausal women, a high-impact aerobic workout with strength training can help increase bone strength and reduce the risk of fractures in later life.
Balance and mobility exercise to reduce falls
While not improving bone or muscle strength, these exercises can help to reduce falls – for example yoga balancing poses.
It is important to follow a regular exercise regimen – at least 3 times a week to maintain bone strength and prevent osteoporosis. The amount of weight used, degree of exercise difficulty, height of jumps, etc. must increase or vary over time to challenge the bones and muscles.