Bones form the structure of our body, helping us to move, lift and carry things. As a living tissue, looking after our bones is important to prevent fractures, falls and mobility issues.
Eating a calcium-rich diet and ensuring you get enough vitamin D is essential for good bone health, but exercising also plays a vital part in protecting and strengthening our skeletal mass. Regular exercise may even help to ward off the bone loss disease osteoporosis.
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When deciding which exercises to do to boost your bone health, you need to take factors such as your age, current fitness level and bone strength into account.
As a child or young adult, your bones are still growing, so you should aim to find exercises that build strong bones. Experts reckon that young people should exercise three times per week doing vigorous activities such as running, racquet sports or ball games to get their bones in peak shape.
After the age of 35, bone mass starts to decrease. Those in this category should focus on exercises that strengthen bones and muscles, to slow down bone loss and prevent fractures or falls in the future. Ideally, exercises such as walking, weightlifting or gardening should be carried out at least twice per week to keep bones in tip-top condition.
Even if you suffer from weak bones or a bone disease such as osteoporosis, it’s important to still fit exercise into your life to reduce the risk of fractures, loss of strength and balance. Discuss which exercises are suitable for you with your GP, and avoid any that are high-impact, such as running, or involve a lot of twisting and bending forwards.
As a general rule of thumb, weight-bearing exercises that are high-impact are the best type for boosting bone health. Weight-bearing exercises involve forcing your bones to move against gravity. Any activity where you’re on your feet is classed as weight-bearing, as your leg bones support your weight. Typical examples include brisk walking, dancing, running, golf, hiking and racquet sports.
Even if you don’t do any organised sport, try to walk as much as you can. Studies show that if you walk four hours per week, your risk of a hip fracture can reduce by as much as 41%. Walking up and downhill is especially beneficial, as it places more impact on the bones in your legs and feet, helping to strengthen them and boost bone density.
Resistance or strength training exercises are also invaluable for strengthening bones. These typically involve lifting weights. You don’t need to be big on bodybuilding to benefit, either. Studies show postmenopausal women who exercise with low weights and carry out repetitions experienced a 22% increase in bone density.
Experts reckon that you need to do strength or resistance training at least a couple of times per week to improve your bone growth.
But, there are other types of activities that can also build strong bones. Tai chi has been found to be especially beneficial for reducing bone loss in women who’ve been through the menopause. In fact, studies found that those females who did tai chi for five days per week for a year experienced three-and-a-half times slower bone loss compared to those who didn’t do this activity.
Yoga is also proven to boost bone mineral density, especially in the spine. However, different poses can strengthen bones throughout the entire body. For example, the Warrior position gets to work on the hip and leg bones, while the Downward Dog focuses on the bones in the shoulders, arms and wrists. As well as improving your bones, yoga helps with flexibility, balance and coordination, which can reduce the risk of falls that may fracture weak bones.