Physical activity and bone strength

You may have heard about how important it is for us to be physically active in terms of weight loss, weight maintenance and mental health, but have you thought about its impact on your bones? Your bones undertake remarkable force throughout your lifetime and simple activities such as running or lifting something heavy can impact your bone strength.

What happens to my bones when I exercise?

Your bones constantly shift and adjust to the activities that you’re doing to meet your demands. This shift is usually between bone formation and bone breakdown. For example, if you are lifting a weighted object or undertaking high demand activities, your bones will try to compensate for the added stress by increasing bone formation. On the other hand, regular lower demand activities such as swimming or cycling may result in a decrease in bone mass.

Your bones are also surrounded by blood vessels which provide them with key nutrients and hormones to aid in new bone development. During exercise, blood flows through your vessels at a higher rate.  This enables the blood to provide these essential nutrients and hormones to your bones and ultimately help repair them quickly.

How much physical activity should I do for optimal bone health?

The right amount of physical activity for you depends on your life stage.  It is recommended that adults undertake at least 30 minutes of weight bearing activities, 3-5 times each week and avoid long periods of being inactive. Post-menopausal women are recommended to have a varied exercise regime compromising of moderate-high weight bearing activity and high intensity progressive resistance training, 3 times each week. As you get older, including weight bearing and resistance training, as well as balance activities at least 3 times each week will help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.  Elderly individuals are encouraged to try progressive resistance training and balancing exercises to reduce the risk of falls and slow down the rate of muscle wastage.

Types of physical activity

Weight bearing physical activity options are enormous and can range from stair climbing, jogging, tennis, jump rope or dancing.  Even the simple act of brisk walking has been shown to have positive effects on your hip joints, especially for post-menopausal women (who have a particularly high risk of osteoporosis).  However, the best results come from undertaking a range of different types of physical activity, including some high impact activities such as jumping or running, as well as some high intensity activities such as lifting weights or doing push ups.

The best way to ensure you are undertaking the recommended exercise requirements is by finding a physical activity that you enjoy.   Whether you take your dog for a walk, spend time working in the garden or put on some music and have a dance, be creative and keep moving to make sure you are looking after your amazing bones!