The Importance of Weight Bearing Exercise for Bone Health

What is “Bone Health”?
In simplest terms, bone health can be defined as bone density, which is a measure of the structural strength of a bone and its ability to resist external forces. A low density, unhealthy bone is much more likely to break down under normal loading (such as running) or when subjected to traumatic stresses, such as in a fall.

Basics of Bone Growth
Bones require two major things to be healthy. The first thing bones need is proper nutrition, which includes an adequate supply of calories and somewhere roughly between 1000mg and 1300mg of calcium (preferably with vitamin D) per day. The second thing bones need to be healthy is a reason to be healthy. Bones, like muscles, respond to the way they are treated; if you neglect them with too much inactivity, they grow weak. Challenge your bones and they will respond positively to the stress and will grow stronger.

Weight Bearing Activities
The best ways to challenge your bones are with weight-bearing activities, which can be as simple as going for a walk or a jog or a sprint, or more involved activities such as yoga, weight lifting, hiking, and racquet sports. Any activity that requires forceful muscular contractions will potentially cause bone growth. That having been said, not all weight bearing activities are created equal; the greater the demands placed on the skeletal system, the greater the response, and so then it is reasonable to think (and is supported by a vast body of research) that resistance training is better at strengthening bone than a walk in the park. It still stands, however, that some activity (any activity) is better than no activity.

The Long Haul
It is never too late to start strengthening your bones. Yes, bone density peaks in the third decade of life and from there it slowly declines, but research has shown that weight bearing activity can improve bone mineral density even in post-menopausal women and the elderly, segments of the U.S. population that are very vulnerable to osteoporotic changes. Which is to say that no matter how old you are or where you are in life, weight bearing activity is essential for your health.

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