5 Exercises for Healthy Bones

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Did you know that after about age 50, we slowly lose muscle mass and bone density?1 People can develop osteopenia and osteoporosis when that process happens more quickly than normal. The good news? We can slow this process down, if not reverse it, with proper resistance training. It is never too late.

A little exercise science: our bodies adapt to the forces we put on them. 

Bones are excellent adaptors. If you put forces on a bone (such as lifting weights, jumping, or carrying a load), receptors in the cellular matrix stimulate the bone to become denser and stronger. Did you catch that? Consistent strength training or weight-bearing exercise can increase bone density. 

In a similar fashion, muscles become fatigued with each strength training session and then repair themselves a bit stronger than before. This is why when you exercise, you generally improve in whatever training you are trying to do. Resistance training can help maintain muscle mass as we age. 

5 moves to build healthy bones (and muscles, too!)

Try these five moves out. It only takes 2 days per week, 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions of each.2 Start with body weight for a day or two to make sure your form is correct, then slowly increase your weight over time. If you keep up the routine (I’m talking a year or more), you’ll find yourself healthier and stronger. You’ll also have a better chance of preventing osteoporosis.

SQUAT

Form tips: think about sitting in a chair (you can even use a chair behind you to practice this) and make sure your back doesn’t arch too much forward or backward. Over time you can add weight by holding something in front of you, or wearing a backpack or weight vest.

older couple doing dumbbell squat exercise

HIP ABDUCTION

Form tips: engage your abdominal muscles and slightly roll your hips forward. It doesn’t matter how high you raise your leg. You should feel this exercise in your glutes.

HIP HINGE

Form tips: keep a neutral spine (don’t curve your torso and shoulders forward) and a slight bend in your knees. Hinge at your hips to bend forward. The strength should come from your glutes and hamstrings. Think like a dippy bird.

woman doing hip hinge exercise

REVERSE FLY

Form tips: try not to arch your upper back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together like a bird flapping its wings.

SINGLE LEG BALANCE

This one is to maintain balance and prevent falls. Can’t stand on one leg? Start with one in front of the other (like a balance beam). With lots of practice, you may someday be able to move to one leg. Is one leg too easy? Try turning your head side to side. For expert status, close your eyes.

senior balances on one leg exercise

It is important that these exercises are done with proper form to reduce the risk of injury. If you have any questions or are not 100 percent confident in your technique, it is best to check in with a physical therapist or other healthcare professional to establish a training regimen that is tailored to you.

Important note: Not All Exercise is Created Equal

At least, not when it comes to bone health. Some very common forms of exercise – walking, cycling, and swimming – do not improve bone health (2). Yes, those are great ways to be physically active but do not deceive yourself into thinking that they will induce the bone-stimulating effects you are looking for. Find a way to integrate strength training two days a week, and then feel at ease to walk, cycle, and swim to your heart’s content.

 

References:

  1. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/osteoporosis#
  2. Hong AR, Kim SW. Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health. Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2018 Dec;33(4):435-444. doi: 10.3803/EnM.2018.33.4.435. PMID: 30513557; PMCID: PMC6279907.

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