Regular exercise has innumerable benefits, including cardiovascular fitness, increased metabolism, better circulation, improved mood, and reduced anxiety. Moderate to high impact weight-bearing exercise is the best type of exercise for building strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. However, low impact exercise, like rebounding on a mini trampoline, is also good for bone health and especially useful for people with joint issues.
Avoiding inactivity is extremely important, especially today where sedentary lifestyles are increasingly becoming the norm. Not only does exercise build muscle and strengthen bone, it also improves balance, which helps to prevent falls.
Adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) a week (e.g. 30 mins a day, 5 days a week) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Weight-bearing impact exercises and resistance exercises are particularly important for improving bone density and helping to prevent osteoporosis:
Impact: Bones need to be subjected to compressive forces (the weight of the body acts as a compressive force during exercise) to stimulate them to increase or maintain density. Compression activates the osteoblasts (cells that synthesise bone) so that additional new bone is produced. Impact varies depending on whether both feet leave the ground at the same time (like running) or just one foot at a time (walking). Exercise can, in general, be divided into low and high impact:
Weight: Weight-bearing exercise – which is any exercise where muscle overcomes a resistant force, including gravity – staves off age-related declining muscle mass and grows new muscle. This is good for bones because denser muscle means a person weighs more as they go about their day-to-day activities, which helps build bones, and the more muscle around joints and bones, the more protected they are from injury.
Resistance: Resistance training is a weight-bearing exercise that involves using weights or resistance bands to create a strong resistance for muscles to overcome. This is more challenging to perform and results in more muscle gain.
High impact exercise and sports run a higher risk of injury. Low impact exercise can also cause injury if care is not taken. Always follow proper exercise technique and never overexert yourself.
Whilst you don’t need fancy gear in order to exercise, you do need the correct gear. Supportive footwear, for instance, is essential.
When embarking on a new exercise regime:
If you have any health conditions or have had previous injuries, ask your GP if you need to be aware of any physical limitations based on your bone strength and general health.
Walking is an all-round excellent exercise that most people can manage, no matter their fitness levels. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise but is low impact, so does not put a lot of stress on joints.
As well as bone health, walking is great for improving cardiovascular health and for toning muscles.
Some people don’t necessarily think of walking as a proper form of exercise, and rather see it more as a way of getting from A to B, but just 30 minutes a day of brisk walking is enough to see real health benefits. The recommendation is to take between 3,000 and 10,000 steps a day – a pedometer will help you keep on target.
You can add to the intensity of the exercise by carrying hand weights or wearing ankle weights.
Stair climbing is a step up from walking in terms of challenge but is still a low to moderate impact exercise (depending on speed of activity). It also engages more muscles than walking or jogging. You can use an ordinary staircase or a special exercise step that has removable blocks so you can adjust the height.
When performing a step up, make sure your entire foot is on the step and your knee is directly above your ankle. Beginners should start out with a very low step, 6 to 8 inches, and be mindful of the stress that step ups put on knees and hips when progressing to a higher step.
When you have levelled up your ability, you can increase the challenge of the exercise by using a higher step, performing more energetic steps, or by holding hand weights and wearing ankle weights.
Rebounding means jumping up and down on a mini trampoline and is a great low-impact exercise that, amongst other benefits, is good for bone health. Because it is low impact it can be enjoyed by people who suffer from osteoporosis, as well as those seeking to prevent it. Some trampettes come with a handle for those who would like extra support.
You can go to rebounding aerobics classes or you can purchase your own rebounder and exercise at home. Start off gently and be mindful of the impact that rebounding can have on knees – even low impact exercises can cause injury if proper technique is not observed.
Dancing is a wonderful way to keep fit, offering a social dimension to exercise along with the health benefits. There are a wide variety of dance classes available, from high energy classes like swing and jive to the gentler types, such as ballroom and line dancing, with some dance classes offering both high impact and low impact versions (e.g., Zumba and dance aerobics).
Dancing is great for balance, coordination, cardiovascular fitness and – as a weight-bearing exercise – is good for toning muscles and encouraging strong bones. It is also good for the brain as learning steps and routines is mentally, as well as physically, demanding.
Weight training is a popular type of strength training that involves lifting weights in repetitions. There are a range of weights available for varying levels of ability; dumbbells, bar bells, kettle bells, ankle and wrist weights, or weight machines are all in the mix depending on your fitness aims.
Even light weights can be beneficial to muscle growth and the more you lift, the more muscle gains you make, and weights can be progressively increased accordingly.
Weight training challenges your muscles and in doing so creates trauma, causing microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. When the muscle repairs itself, it grows bigger and stronger. Therefore, it is essential to have rest days and not overdo it, otherwise the muscles will not have chance to repair and grow.
As well as the weight from muscle helping to encourage new formation of bone, muscle also protects bones against injury.
Resistance bands, sometimes referred to as exercise or fitness bands or Powerbands, are a versatile and highly portable exercise tool designed to strengthen muscles through resistance. They are rubber bands of various lengths and thicknesses that are pushed or pulled against depending on the exercise being performed. As with weight training, they are effective for building and toning muscle and are suitable for all levels of ability.
Aerobic exercise is any physical exertion that causes a person to breath harder and sweat – an aerobics exercise class is usually a series of rhythmic movements choreographed to music by an instructor to make this physical exertion fun and motivating.
For people who enjoy step up exercise there are step aerobics classes, for those who like to boogie their way to fitness there are a wide variety of dance aerobics classes (think Zumba and Jazzercize), and for people who prefer a less impactful exercise that is easier on the joints, there is aqua aerobics; however, the latter is less beneficial to bones as the water reduces some of the muscle strengthening and bone stimulating effects of gravity’s pull on the body.
There is also a plethora of aerobic exercise videos available on the market catering to varying music tastes and levels of ability.
Tennis can be a demanding game and is fantastic for all-round health: stamina, balance, coordination, cardiovascular health, muscle strength and flexibility. Being high impact, it is an excellent sport for bone health. It is also great as a brain workout as it requires focus and tactical thinking – and as an exercise that needs more than one person to participate, it is a much healthier socialising option than an afternoon in the pub.
Tennis can be a challenging competition or just a friendly knockabout in the local park and is, therefore, accessible to most levels of fitness and ability.
Running and jogging are excellent for bone health, being high-impact activities, and excellent for cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength.
Jogging is usually defined as running at a speed of under 6mph. Both running and jogging are forms of aerobic exercise, but running is more demanding on the heart, lungs and muscles.
It is essential to wear a good pair of trainers when running or jogging and to warm up beforehand to prevent pulled muscles. People who enjoy this form of exercise should also be mindful of the force exerted on joints, especially knees, as it can be very wearing if proper technique isn’t observed.
Done properly, running and jogging can be cathartic, immune-boosting and lead to all-round fitness.
Whilst these are three different forms of exercise, they have a lot of overlap in terms of workout style and are all mind-body disciplines, although Yoga and Tai chi are more likely to focus on the spiritual aspect more explicitly. They are all fantastic for improving flexibility, balance and core strength and as weight-bearing exercise they are good for bone health. Very low impact, they involve holding challenging poses in order to build strength throughout the body.
Pilates exercises utilise small, precise movements to target certain areas of the body, helping to create strong, lean muscles. Yoga and Tai chi movements are more fluid and focus on the flow in and out of each position, with Yoga being a little more static than Tai chi; however, there a lot of different styles of Yoga and Tai chi, so research to find the style that suits you best.
Teaming any of these disciplines in a regime that includes high-energy exercise like tennis or dancing would be a winning formula for all-round health.
It doesn’t matter too much how you move, just that you do – and on a regular basis. Find something you enjoy and make it a habit, and your bones will reap the benefits now and in the future.
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