Fitness Articles

Exercising to Build Strong Bones

Use the LIVE Approach

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If you think this sounds a lot like how your muscles get stronger after you “injure” them during your strength training workouts, you’re exactly right. And just like you need to increase the demands you put on your muscles to keep improving your strength, you need to keep challenging your osteoblasts to build new bone. Doing the same old thing over and over again will put them to sleep. That’s why intensity and variety are important aspects of your bone-building program.

How to Exercise for Bone-Building
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at which kinds of exercise are best at stimulating your osteoblasts and building strong bones.

*Note: If you already have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, you should ask your doctor which exercises are safe for you first. Although load-bearing exercise will almost always be an important part of your treatment plan, you may need to avoid certain high impact exercises such as jumping, hopping, or other activities where you “land hard,” as sudden force can cause stress fractures in already weakened bones. Also, it’s very important to include balance training in your routine.

To apply the load-bearing principle most effectively, choose exercises that involve moving your body weight (or added weight) up and down against gravity. Examples of load-bearing aerobic exercises (which will also elevate your heart rate) include:
  • Running and jogging
  • Stair climbing
  • Step aerobics
  • Jumping rope and jumping jacks
  • Dancing (or other choreography) that involves hopping, jumping, stomping, or skipping
  • Tennis
  • Walking or hiking uphill
While low-impact exercises such as swimming, walking on flat terrain, and bike riding can be great aerobic exercise, studies indicate that they may not do much for your bone density. Likewise, it’s not clear whether using exercise machines that help you move your weight (like the elliptical machine) help improve bone density as well as the non-assisted exercises listed above. In some cases, especially if you have to avoid high impact activity due to osteoporosis or some other problem, using an exercise bike with added resistance can work well.

Of course, formal strength training is an excellent way to build bone density. The best approach is to use a weight heavy enough that you can only do seven to eight repetitions in good form. When you can handle 12 repetitions with that weight, it’s time to increase the weight. Also, focus on lifting slowly, using a slow count of eight, and with good technique. Lift the weight up for four counts and—this is especially important—lower it down to the start position for four counts without allowing the weight to rest on your body or the machine between repetitions. (If you haven’t been using this approach, you can expect some muscle soreness at first.)
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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