Exercise and Bone Health

Bone is living tissue. It is always going through a process called remodeling. In this process, old bone is broken down and is replaced with new tissue. Many things can affect this process and leave you with bones that are weaker and less dense. Some things that can affect bone remodeling are:

  • Aging
  • Low vitamin D—Sunlight helps the body make vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D by eating certain kinds of food or by taking a supplement.
  • A diet low in calcium
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise—especially weight bearing and resistance exercise

Fortunately, we can also do things to make our bones stronger.

Why Exercise Is Good for Bones

Regular weight-bearing and resistance exercise helps build muscle. It also makes bones strong and helps them stay that way. Exercise makes the muscle pull against the bone. This stresses or stimulates the bone, and the bone gets stronger and denser. There are 3 main types of exercise: aerobic, weight-bearing, and resistance. Some activities can be more than 1 type.

Aerobic (Cardiovascular) Exercise

In aerobic exercise, you constantly move large muscles in the legs, shoulders, and buttocks. This makes you breathe more deeply. It also makes your heart work harder to pump blood. These two things make your heart and lungs stronger. Some types of aerobic exercise are:

Weight-Bearing Exercise

In weight-bearing exercises, your bones and muscles work against gravity, and your feet and legs bear the weight. The weight and pull of the muscle make your bones build more bone cells. This makes your bones stronger. Some examples of weight-bearing exercises are:

  • Jogging
  • Walking
  • Stair climbing
  • Dancing
  • Soccer

Resistance Exercise (Strength Training)

Resistance exercises use muscle strength to build muscle and make bones stronger. Some examples are:

  • Weight lifting, using:
    • Free weights
    • Weight machines
    • Elastic tubing
  • Bodyweight exercises like push-ups and chin-ups

Tips for Getting Started:

Aerobic or Weight-bearing Exercise

  • Warm up for 5 minutes first. Start with gentle stretches and a light walk.
  • Exercise slowly for the first 5 minutes.
  • Slowly raise your intensity so that your heart rate gets faster. A person doing moderate-intensity aerobic activity can talk. A person doing vigorous-intensity activity cannot say more than a few words without stopping to take a breath.
  • Over time, build up to working out at least 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity or 75 minutes a week at vigorous intensity.

Resistance Exercise

  • Begin each exercise with light weights and just a few repetitions (reps).
  • Slowly (over weeks) add weight. Do not add more than 10% in a workout.
  • Do these exercises 2-3 times a week. Rest for 1 day between each workout. This will give your bones and muscles time to rest and repair themselves.
  • Over time, build up to doing 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps with a rest period of 30-60 seconds between sets.
  • Feeling stiff the day after exercise is normal. Pain is not. If you are in pain, you did too much. Exercise for a shorter time or at a lower intensity.

Before starting an exercise program, check with your doctor about any health problems you may have that could limit your ability to exercise.

RESOURCES:

National Osteoporosis Foundation
http://www.nof.org

The President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition
http://www.fitness.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx#toc. Accessed January 21, 2021.

Bone remodeling. University of Washington website. Available at: http://courses.washington.edu/bonephys/physremod.html. Accessed January 21, 2021.

How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html. Accessed January 21, 2021.

Osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Accessed January 21, 2021.

Skeleton keys. Smithsonian Museum of Natural History website. Available at: http://anthropology.si.edu/writteninbone/young_old.html. Accessed January 21, 2021.

Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 1/29/2021