Bones can become weak at any age, but just growing older does put you at higher risk for fractures and/or developing osteoporosis. However, it isn’t a given that you suffer bone loss or weakness as you age. You can continue to have healthy bones long into your golden years if you give them what they really need – the right nutrientsand the right exercise. Allow me to share with you, then, the best exercise to keep your bones strong and healthy.
Work Those Bones
You may think of osteoporosis as more of a “woman’s disease” as TV ads touting certain bone-building drugs always feature women. It’s true that osteoporosis is affected by loss of estrogen as women become menopausal, but you’ll probably be surprised when I tell you that 20% of men are also affected by osteoporosis. The truth is – loss of bone strength and susceptibility to fracture is an equal opportunity condition. It can occur to anyone – male or female – at any age.
What’s important to remember is that, like your muscles, you need to maintain strength in your bones. It’s muscle movement on bone that stimulates bone growth and there are specific types of exercise that stimulate bone better than others. They are what I like to call “impact” or “land based” exercise, because your feet (or your hands), impact, or connect with, the land. Here, I’ve put together a list of 4 impact type exercises for you that are excellent in building bone.
1. Jumping. Jumping, even lightly, on pavement, a wooden gym floor, or a trampoline, is an excellent impact-type exercise. When your feet hit a surface, it causes your muscles to contract and rub against the bones. Jumping movements can be done in jumping rope, doing jumping jacks, or jumping on a rebounder. Games like basketball, volleyball, soccer, also involve jumping on a flat surface. And, they’re much more fun than working out on an elliptical or treadmill which, by the way, don’t provide enough impact and are not very bone strengthening.
2. Weight training. Keep in mind that you also need to keep the bones of your upper body strong as well. Wrists and forearm bones are more prone to fractures as you get older. This is where weight training with free weights helps. Weight machines at the gym don’t provide as much resistance as free weights for bone building. Free weights require moving your body in 3 dimensions versus weight machines that reduce it to 2 dimensions and decrease much of the impact. Dumbbell flies, chest presses, biceps curls, triceps extensions with at least 10 lb weights (increase as your strength does) are all good. Aim for 3 repetitions of 10. Squats holding a weight bar are good to strengthen the spine, increasing the weight as you get stronger. Do squats carefully with your feet flat on the ground, lowering your body in a straight line to the floor.
3. Lunges/Stair Steps/Stair Climbing: These movements strengthen hip bones (and their surrounding muscles). To do lunges correctly, hold a weight bar for balance in a biceps curl position (elbows bent in towards your chest, bar close to your chest). Step forward with your right leg in a one-leg squat position, bending your knee at a right angle, with your left leg stretched out behind you. Then straighten up, and repeat with the left leg. Repeat 2-3 sets, 10 repetitions, alternating legs. You should feel a stretch in the inner thigh of the extended leg and a stretch in the outer thigh/hip muscles on the bent leg. Using a stair step is a different variation of the lunge. Standing in front of a step, step onto the step with your right foot and then lean forward into it, squatting down on the right leg. Alternate legs and repeat 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions. In addition, simply running up and down stairs several times a day will help strengthen bone and muscle in your legs and hips.
4. Floor/wall push-ups: Good for wrist and arm bones to build strength in both bones and muscles. Get on your knees on the floor, and place your hands on the floor in front of you. With your knees bent, lower yourself to the floor pressing down on your hands then push back up with your hands. Repeat this 10 times, 2 sets each, increase to 3 when your wrists feel stronger. If you can’t do push-ups on the floor, you can do the same movements against a wall, standing at an angle to the wall. Place your hands on the wall in front of your chest, then lean into the wall bending your arms at the elbows, touching your nose to the wall. Repeat 10 times, 2 sets each.
Other Fun Activities That Help Build Bone
Aside from the exercises noted above, there are several fun, weight-bearing activities that will also help you build bone and social connections. Varying these activities with the exercises above keep your bones and muscles always responding to different stimulation. They include:
- Dancing – high energy dancing like Zumba, hip-hop, polka, where your feet are hitting the ground repetitively stimulates bone growth.
- Jogging – even 10-15 minutes a day helps build bone.
- Step aerobics – (see #3 above).
- Hiking – climbing steep terrains works the same bones and muscles as climbing stairs or step aerobics.
In addition to doing regular exercise, be sure you are getting enough calcium in your foods and Vitamin D. In the darker fall-winter months, supplementing with vitamin D3 will help ensure that your bones have enough. Without vitamin D, your bones cannot absorb calcium very well. In addition, vitamin K2 and silica help support bone strength.
Keeping your bones healthy and strong can also ensure that you live longer as they help you stay mobile and participating in all of life’s activities much, much longer!