Exercise and bone density
Regular physical activity and exercise plays an important role in maintaining or improving bone density. Exercise also increases the size, strength and capacity of our muscles. However exercise must be regular and ongoing to have a proper benefit. Our bones become stronger when a certain amount of impact or extra strain is placed on them. This means there are specific types of exercises that are better for bone.
Exercise throughout life
The specific goals of exercising for bone health change throughout life from building maximum bone strength in childhood and adolescence, to optimising and maintaining muscle and bone strength in young and mid-adulthood, and reducing bone loss in older age.
For the elderly the focus of exercise is to increase or maintain muscle mass and strength, and address risk factors for falls, particularly any difficultly in balance and walking ability.
The right kind of exercise
Specific types of exercise are important for improving bone strength.
- Weight bearing exercise (exercise done while on your feet so you bear your own weight). For example: brisk walking, jogging, skipping, basketball / netball, tennis, dancing, impact aerobics, stair walking
- Progressive resistance training (becomes more challenging over time). For example: lifting weights - hand / ankle weights or gym equipment
The ability of an exercise to build bone (osteogenic capacity) depends on the specific way that stress is applied to the bone during the exercise.
Note: certain exercises like swimming and cycling may be good for general health but have little benefit to bone health.
Get the most out of exercise
- Exercise must be regular (at least 3 times per week)
- Exercise should progress over time (amount of weight used, degree of exercise difficulty, height of jumps...must increase or vary over time to challenge bones and muscles)
- Exercise routines should be varied (variety in routines is better than repetition)
- Exercise should be performed in short, intensive bursts
View the following table for recommended exercises at different stages of life
Balance exercises and preventing falls
Balance and mobility exercises do not improve bone or muscle strength but can help reduce falls. Exercises that assist with balance include standing on one leg (increasing to standing on one leg with eyes closed), heel-to-toe walking and tai chi.
Falls are a common cause of fracture. For people with osteoporosis, even a minor fall can cause a fracture. Half of all falls occur around the home and approximately one third of people over 65 fall each year. It is estimated around 6% of falls result in a fracture so preventing falls has become an important part of managing bone health. Falls are most commonly caused by:
- Poor muscle strength
- Problems with balance (weak muscles, low blood pressure, inner ear problems, some medicines, poor nutrition)
- Poor vision
- Home hazards that cause tripping
Extensive research has been conducted into the best ways to avoid falls.
Review the following information: Strategies to avoid falls.