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Slowing bone loss with weight-bearing exercise

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As we age, our bones naturally lose density and strength, which can lead to conditions like osteoporosis and fractures. However, research has shown that weight-bearing exercise can slow down the process of bone loss and even improve bone density.

How Weight-Bearing Exercise Works

Weight-bearing exercise is any activity that requires your bones to support your body weight. Examples of weight-bearing exercises include walking, running, dancing, and weightlifting. These types of exercises stimulate the cells responsible for bone formation, leading to an increase in bone density.

In addition, weight-bearing exercise also helps to strengthen the muscles and tendons around the bones, providing extra support and protection against fractures. This is particularly important for older adults, who may be more susceptible to falls and fractures.

Benefits of Weight-Bearing Exercise for Bone Health

In addition to slowing bone loss and improving bone density, weight-bearing exercise has numerous other benefits for overall health. Regular weight-bearing exercise has been shown to:

  • Improve balance and coordination
  • Increase muscle strength and endurance
  • Enhance joint flexibility and range of motion
  • Reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer

Tips for Getting Started with Weight-Bearing Exercise

If you're new to weight-bearing exercise, it's important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Choose activities that you enjoy and that fit into your lifestyle. Walking, dancing, and swimming are all great options.
  • Start with short, easy workouts and gradually increase the time and intensity.
  • Incorporate resistance training using weights or resistance bands to build muscle and bone strength.
  • Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any existing health conditions.

Taking care of our bodies is important, and that includes keeping our bones healthy. Did you know that after the age of 40, bone strength starts to decline at an average rate of 1% per year? This means that we need to take steps to prevent conditions like osteoporosis, which affects over 10 million Americans, with another 43 million at risk.

Thankfully, there are ways to slow down bone loss and even build bone through weight-bearing exercises. When we put stress on our bones, it stimulates the production of calcium and bone-forming cells, resulting in stronger, denser bones. Strength and power training are great examples of weight-bearing exercises that can provide the necessary stress.

Even lower-impact weight-bearing aerobic exercises like walking or running can benefit our bones, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Activities that have a higher impact tend to have a more pronounced effect on bone density, and faster movements are better for strengthening bones. It's also essential to remember that only the bones that bear the exercise's load will benefit. For example, walking or running only protects the bones in our lower body.

On the other hand, a well-rounded strength training program that targets all the major muscle groups can benefit most of the bones in our body. It's especially beneficial for bones that are more prone to fractures, such as those in the hips, spine, wrists, and ribs. Additionally, strength training promotes stability and reduces the risk of falls, which can lead to fractures.

Conclusion

Slowing bone loss is crucial for overall health, and weight-bearing exercise is an effective way to combat this. By incorporating weight-bearing exercises into your routine, you can improve bone density, strengthen muscles and tendons, and reduce the risk of falls and fractures. Remember to start slowly and work with your doctor to create a safe and effective exercise plan.

Caroline Buckee

Caroline Flannigan is an epidemiologist. She is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and is the Associate Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

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