As we get older, our bone density naturally decreases, putting us at an increased risk of fractures. This loss in bone density is caused by hormonal changes, particularly in women, and because of our tendency to reduce physical activity with age.
Osteoporosis is a condition where bone becomes so weak and brittle that even the mildest of stresses can cause a fracture. Approximately 34 million Americans suffer from lone bone mass, while about ten million Americans have osteoporosis.
While some cases require the use of hormone-related therapy or medications that stimulate bone growth, for many a diet high in calcium and vitamin D and regular participation in an exercise regime can help to maintain and build bone density.
Certain types of exercises place an extra load of stress on bone. The extra forces move through the bones and stimulate tissue growth so that they become stronger and denser.
Types of Exercises: Weight-Bearing and Weight-Training
There are two types of exercises that are ideal for building or maintaining bone density: weight-bearing exercises and weight-training exercises. An ideal bone-density workout regime includes both types of exercises.
Weight-bearing exercises require your body to remain upright and fight against gravity. For example, walking, jogging, and jumping up and down are considered weight-bearing exercises. The higher impact the exercise, the better for building bones. Jogging, jumping rope, playing tennis or basketball, dancing, jumping jacks and walking or running up stairs are high-intensity weight-bearing exercises that have been found to be more effective for building and maintaining bone tissue. In a recent study, women who jumped up and down 10 times in a row twice per day for four months saw significant increases in their pelvic bone density.
Low-impact weight-bearing exercises will also build bone, but not to the same extent. However, if you already have brittle bones or have other joint issues that make high-impact exercises dangerous, low-impact activities are the way to go. Walking and cycling on an elliptical machine are good low-impact weight-bearing exercises. Exercises like swimming or cycling, while beneficial for building cardiovascular health and burning calories, are not weight bearing and therefore are not effective at building bone density.
Weight training, or strength training, forces your muscles to contract against an added load. The muscles are attached to the bones through tendons, so when they contract, they pull and place additional stress on the bones, which in turn stimulates bone growth. Weight training can be done with free weights, exercise bands, weight machines and while using body weight as resistance.
Before You Begin: Visit Your Medical Professional
If you haven't been exercising regularly and are concerned with the status of your bone density, it's important to visit your doctor before starting a workout regimen to make sure that it's safe for you to be physically active. Your medical professional can test the bone mineral density of your spine and hip, two of the most susceptible areas of bone loss, and make sure that you can exercise safely without an increased risk of fractures. If bone density loss is too great, your doctor will prescribe a more appropriate plan of treatment, which may or may not include exercise.
Exercise Schedule: How Much Exercise To Build Bone?
Get in 30-minutes of weight-bearing exercise most days of the week. If a single 30-minute workout period isn't possible, whether because of physical limitations or time constraints, you can break up the time into multiple sessions and spread them throughout the day. Whether you do a single 30-minute workout or three 10-minute sessions, the bone density benefits are the same.
Incorporate two to three weight-training workouts into your schedule every week. Spread the sessions out equally throughout the week so that your body gets one to two days of rest in between each session. For example, a Monday and Thursday, or a Monday and Wednesday and Friday routine, is ideal.
An Example Bone-Building Weight-Training Workout: What Exercises are Best?
You're welcome to select your favorite type of activity for your weight-bearing requirement. You'll be more likely to stick with your workouts if you do the kind of exercise that you enjoy.
In your weight-training workout, however, there are exercises that are more ideal for building bone than others. Below is a sample weight-training workout for beginners who would like to focus on building bone. Included in parenthesis is an optional replacement exercise if the recommended exercise is too difficult or you lack the necessary equipment. Complete two sets of 12 repetitions of each exercise.
- Back Squats (Seated or Lying Leg Press)
- Romanian Deadlift with Dumbbells (Leg Curls)
- Standing Shoulder Press (Seated Shoulder Press)
- Standing Biceps Curls with Dumbbells (Seated Dumbbell Curls)
- Standing Overhead Triceps Extension with Dumbbell (Seated Overhead Triceps Extension)