Build your bones with exercise

  • Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, August 2, 2012 11:35 a.m.

Bones are living tissue and are constantly changing. Old bone continuously breaks down and is replaced by new. When you're young and growing, your body makes more bone than it removes. This helps you reach your peak bone mass – typically around age 30, the point at which your bones are strongest. Your bones contain about 99 percent of the calcium in your body. Every day, your body uses calcium to help nerves and muscles function and to help blood clot. But, your body doesn’t produce calcium – it must come from the foods you eat or supplements you take. When your body doesn’t get enough calcium through food, it draws from the supply that is stored in your bones.

Once you turn 30 (later if you're a man), you start to lose bone mass faster than your body replaces it, and this increases your risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become less dense and makes them weaker and more vulnerable to breaks. Osteoporosis affects both men and women. However, it is more common in women because women generally have smaller, thinner bones than men. The rate of bone loss in women increases even more quickly during the first four to eight years after menopause. Bone density is also influenced by genetics, diet, estrogen (for women) and testosterone (for men), exercise, alcohol, smoking and the use of certain medications. The ability to absorb calcium decreases for both men and women as they age. Men begin to catch up to women in rate of bone loss as they age, because untreated low levels of testosterone contribute to bone loss. By ages 65 to 70, men and women lose bone at the same rate.

Helping your bones Osteoporosis can help be prevented by including enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet and exercising regularly. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), women and men younger than 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium and 300 to 800 IU of vitamin D daily. For men and women older than 50, the need rises to 1,200 mg of calcium and 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D daily.

Like muscles, bones are living tissue, and exercise makes them stronger. Two types of exercise can help build bones:


  • Weight-bearing exercises. When your feet and legs bear weight – as they do when walking – your muscles and bones become stronger, because they're working against gravity. Low-impact exercises such as elliptical training, stair-step machines, walking and low-impact aerobics are best for people who have low bone mass or are at risk for osteoporosis. Swimming and bicycling are good ways to exercise your heart and lungs, but they don't strengthen your bones, because they're not weight-bearing exercises.

  • Resistance exercises. Also known as strength training, these types of activities use your muscles to pull or push against something to build bone and muscle strength. Free weights, weight machines and other fitness tools, such as elastic bands or weights designed to be used in a pool, are often used for strength training. To avoid possible injury, be sure to learn the proper techniques for the activities you choose. Many gyms offer classes, or you can work with a trainer.


Balance and posture exercises are good additions to your workout. They reduce the risk for falls and spinal fractures, help people move well in daily activities and strengthen leg muscles.

Men and women should also avoid smoking, use alcohol moderately and ask their healthcare provider if any of their prescribed medications increase bone loss.

Tips to get started Talk with your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program. This is especially important if you have a chronic condition, such as heart disease. If you're a woman older than age 65, your provider may recommend a bone mineral density test to screen for osteoporosis. You may need to be tested earlier if you have other risk factors or a family history of osteoporosis. If you have osteoporosis, your provider may advise you to avoid certain activities and suggest medication to help slow bone loss.

Visit www.rowan.org/ortho or call 704-210-5107 to find an orthopaedic surgeon near you.

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