Physical Activity for Best Bone Health

People who are active have lower risk for osteoporosis, especially those who do weight-bearing activities.
Physical Activity for Best Bone Health - Articles

Updated: September 17, 2017

Physical Activity for Best Bone Health

People who are active have stronger musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems, lowering their risk for osteoporosis-related falls and fractures. This is especially true for those who do moderate to vigorous physical activities, like weight-bearing activities, at least three times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Muscles pulling on the bones build stronger, denser bones. The more bone mass you build from birth to age 35, the better off you will be during the years of gradual bone loss. After age 35, the body breaks down bone mass faster than it builds it back up. Exercise can also help you maintain bone density later in life.

Besides strength training every other day, additional exercises for building bone promoting strength include walking, running, hiking, jumping rope, stair climbing, step aerobics, dancing, racquet sports, and other activities that require your muscles to work against gravity. Swimming and biking, although good for cardiovascular fitness, are not bone-building exercises.

If you already have osteoporosis, you might wonder whether you should exercise at all. The answer for most people is YES. You should speak to your doctor to learn what types of exercises you can safely do to preserve bone and strengthen your back and hips. Keep in mind, however, that exercise alone can't prevent or cure osteoporosis.

Exercise Tips

  • Even if you do not have osteoporosis, you should check with your health care provider before you start an exercise program.
  • Remember to warm up before starting and cool down at the end of each exercise session.
  • For the best benefit to your bone health combine several different weight-bearing exercises.
  • Remember to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercising.
  • Vary the types of exercise you do each week.
  • Combine weight bearing and resistance exercise with aerobic exercises to help improve your overall health.
  • Bring your friend along to help you keep going, or better yet, bring your family and encourage them to be healthy.
  • Add more physical activity to your day; take the stairs vs. the elevator, park farther away, and walk to your co-worker's office rather than emailing.

Activities Affecting Different Ages

  • Ages 6-17 years: 60+ minutes (1 hour) of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily; includes at least 3 days/week of aerobic, 3 days/week of strength training,and 3 days per week of bone-strengthening activities
  • Ages 18-64 years: 150-300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) per week of moderate exercise or 75-150 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes to 2.5 hours) of vigorous physical activity per week; strength training at least 2 days per week
  • Ages 65+ years: follow adult guidelines as physically able; include balance activities if falling is a risk

Bone-Building Activities for Preventing Osteoporosis

Initial/BeginnerModerate load/intensity/timeAdvanced load/intensity/time*
WalkingWalking uphillWalking with weighted vest
Square dancingRace walkingWalking with backpack
YogaJoggingRace walking
Weight liftingWeight liftingJogging/running
Low-impact aerobicsStep aerobicsRunning
Slow dancingFast dancingSoccer
Tai chiDownhill skiingWeight lifting
GardeningCross-country skiingHigh-impact aerobics
Stair climbingSoccerStair climbing with weighted vest
Elastic band exercisesBasketballBasketball
House-cleaning activitiesVolleyballHiking
Carrying groceriesHikingBackpacking
BowlingTennisJumping rope
Golf, pulling clubsElastic band exercisesGymnastics
Baseball/softballPilatesGolf, carrying clubs
Tennis

Key:

  • Initial/beginner = Start one or more of these low-impact weight-bearing exercises on a regular basis. Get up and get moving!
  • Moderate = Increase your load, intensity, and time of physical activity with muscle-strengthening exercises. Do more, more often.
  • Advanced = Challenge yourself to keep increasing your load, intensity, and time of physical activities. Put effort into building bone!

*Load = mechanical stress that stimulates the development of muscle and bone strength.
Intensity = how hard the body is working during the exercise period. Moderate physical activity allows a person to carry on a conversation comfortably during the activity. Advanced/vigorous physical activity is intense enough to result in a significant increase in heart and breathing rate.
Time = duration; length of the training session.

Sources

Moayyeri, A. "The association between physical activity and osteoporotic fractures: A review of the evidence and implications for future research." AEP 18, no. 11 (November 2008): 827-35.

National Osteoporosis Foundation. "Osteoporosis Exercise for Strong Bones."

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Prepared by Nancy Wiker, extension educator. Revised by Stacy Reed, extension educator.

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