Cross section of the spinal column.

The 2 Best Exercise Styles to Strengthen Your Bones

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Our bones play a vital role in supporting our bodies and allowing us to move. However, as we age our bones can become weaker and lose density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Building and maintaining strong bones is crucial for overall health and mobility, especially as we get older.

One of the most effective ways to improve bone mineral density (BMD) is through regular exercise. Exercise puts stress on our bones, which stimulates the body to build more bone cells and increase bone density. This process is known as bone remodelling, and it helps to strengthen our bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

There are two main types of exercises that are particularly effective for building bone mineral density: weight-bearing exercises and resistance exercises.

1. Weight-Bearing Exercises

Adults exercising for the benefit of healthy bones

Weight-bearing exercises are those that force you to work against gravity and bear your body’s weight. These exercises are excellent for stimulating bone growth and increasing bone density. Examples of weight-bearing exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Hiking
  • Stair climbing
  • Dancing
  • Tennis
  • Sports like netball, basketball

Functional loading including the activities above has been shown to improve bone mass (leichter, et. al.)

For community dwelling older-adults there are a few key metrics used to measure functional capacity that will help reduce the risk of bone injury in people with osteoporosis. These include:

  • Walking a minimum of 300m for 2-3 separate trips at a time
  • Carry packages averaging 3kg whilst walking
  • Frequently encounter stairs, steps, curves and slopes
  • Engage in frequent postural transitions such as change of direction, reaching, etc.

The key to maximising the benefits of weight-bearing exercises is to engage in high-impact activities that put more stress on your bones. However, if you have joint problems or other health concerns contact one of our expert Exercise Physiologists to find the right type of exercise for you!

2. Resistance Exercises

physiotherapist teaches older adult how to do a leg strengthening exercise

Resistance exercises, also known as strength training, involve working against a force or resistance to build muscle strength and bone density. These exercises are particularly effective for targeting specific areas of the body and improving overall bone health. Examples of resistance exercises include:

  • Weight lifting
  • Resistance band exercises
  • Bodyweight exercises (e.g., push-ups, squats, lunges)
  • Yoga
  • Pilates

The “LIFTMOR” Study

The LIFTMOR study was undertaken to determine whether the implementation of a High-Intensity Resistance and Impact Training (HIRIT) program would reduce the parameters of risk for fracture in postmenopausal women with low bone mass

101 participants were involved in this study with a T-Score <-1.0 at the hip and/or spine.

The study ran for 8 weeks, 2 x per week with a 30-minute HIRIT program (5 sets of 5 reps at greater than 85% of 1 repetition maximum)

The researchers found that HIRIT can be a highly appealing therapeutic option for the management of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women with low to very low bone mass.

Summary

When performing resistance exercises, it’s important to gradually increase the weight or resistance over time to continue challenging your bones and muscles. Additionally, incorporating a variety of exercises that target different muscle groups can help ensure overall bone health.

How often should I exercise to best remodel my bones?

There is an optimum amount of exercise that is best to help stimulate bone remodelling and increase your bone mineral density.

  • Aim for at least 2 sessions per week.
    Higher exercise frequency (≥2 sessions per week) has a significantly greater effect on increasing bone mineral density (BMD) compared to lower frequencies (1-<2 sessions per week) (1).
  • Keep going!
    Longer exposure to exercise programs amplifies the positive effect of exercise (1).

In summary, the evidence suggests exercising at least 2-3 times per week, with 3 sessions being the commonly recommended minimum frequency to meaningfully improve bone mineral density, especially at the spine. Importantly, higher frequencies can also provide additional BMD benefits. Here is a fantastic guide from Healthy Bones Australia showing how to use exercise to improve your bone mineral density.

It is important to note that your optimum exercise prescription depends on your medical history and your individual risk.

If you fall into one of these risk categories or are looking for ways to pro-actively improve your bone mineral density, please reach out to our expert Exercise Physiology team and get a personalised exercise plan that suits you.

References

  1. Zitzmann, A. L., Shojaa, M., Kast, S., Kohl, M., von Stengel, S., Borucki, D., … & Kemmler, W. (2022). The effect of different training frequency on bone mineral density in older adults. A comparative systematic review and meta-analysis. Bone154, 116230.
  2. https://healthybonesaustralia.org.au/resource-hub/fact-sheets/
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