We might think that our bones are rather inert structures. Unlike muscles, you are unlikely to see outward changes in your bones over time. But actually your bones are very much alive and changing all the time. Old bone cells are lost and new cells are created. After our 20s, our bones generally start to thin somewhat, and by the time we are past middle age, our bones are more prone to fracture.
While most people don’t notice any problems due to thinned bones until middle-age or latter, the best time to prevent problems is to take measures while still in your 20s and 30s. If you start out at that age with better bones, you have more bone tissue “in your bank”, and when they thin later on, you have more bone in reserve, and are less likely to have problems.
Women past menopause are at the highest risk for fractures from thinned bones (osteoporosis), but men are not immune. There are dietary and other lifestyle measures you can take to minimize the risks, but one of the best ways to keep your bones healthy is to exercise. But not all exercises are the same when it comes to building bones.
What stimulates bone growth
What best stimulates bone growth is putting the bone under physical stress, as in certain exercises. The body is so smart that when your bone is stressed, your body makes more bone cells—and stronger bones—to protect you from fractures.
The best sort of exercises for bones are generally those that involve an impact of your body with the ground. Here is a summary of some exercises that help the most, and those that are least helpful for bones:
Most helpful: running, jumping, soccer, dancing, hopping, volleyball, aerobic classes, and fast walking
Moderately helpful: weight training
Less helpful: biking, swimming, and slow walking
That is not to say that biking and swimming are not good forms of exercise. They are great for you, but if you want to build up your bones, the best exercises involve some impact exercise along with weight training. Your best bet is to do some impact exercises along with weight training. If you do weight training, it’s important to have a program that exercises both your upper body as well as your lower. (Doing, for example, bicep curls will do nothing to help your hips).
One study of pre-menopausal women showed that women who just jumped in place 10 to 20 times in a row, with 30 seconds between each hop, twice a day, for 4 months, developed significantly stronger hipbones. Another study of over 60,000 post-menopausal women showed that women who walked fast at least 4 times a week (30 minutes or more per walk), had a 41% lower risk of hip fractures than women who only walked slowly or who didn’t take walks.
If you haven’t been exercising or have questions about what exercise is good for you, talk to a health professional or trainer. If your body can tolerate jumping or impact exercises, fine, if not, hopefully you can do fast walking instead. And while it is best to start these exercises before middle age, it’s never too late to start, as long as you get your doctor’s ok.
To stimulate your bones even more
Finally, if you can tolerate running or brisk walking, one hint to help your bones even more. When you walk or run, occasionally, and randomly, take a few steps to one side then the other, and backwards if you can safely do that. These so-called “odd impacts” have been shown to stimulate the bone tissues even better than up and down impacts.
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