Lately, maybe it's because more than half my of my clients are over 50, I have been having the conversation with quite a few clients about the importance of bone density as we age and I thought perhaps it's something I should write about as it seems to be a benefit of exercise that gets missed... and it's a very important one.
In addition to increasing your metabolism, aiding in fat loss, improving sleep and boosting your mood; exercise has the capacity to improve your bone density.
No one wants to lose their independence, or miss out on that "bucket list" activity or skip that golf vacation because your bones were too weak to handle a fall, or hold up to the rigours of repetitive movements like snow shovelling, golf swings, gardening, or even everyday movements at work.
And while it's common to think that bone density is a concern only if you are at a "certain age", think again. Yes it's true as we age bone density doesn't become an even bigger reason why exercise is so important. But here is the thing, starting early improves your chances at prevention.
Post-Menopausal woman, thin women with family history of osteoporosis and men with low testosterone levels are at the highest risk of having weaker bones and should be taking action to slow the bone deterioration down or even improve it. (yes you can do that). Younger women and men who are not actively exercising might want to start making it a priority because you will be adding bone density earlier and giving yourself the best opportunity to maintain strong bones as you age.
With all of that being said what does the research tell us about how to increase bone density?
Well there are 4 exercises that are well documented in aiding your bone density.
1. Brisk Walking
- Walking at an up tempo pace is something almost anyone can do anywhere.
Start with a brisk 10 minute walk everyday after lunch or dinner and work your way up to 30 minutes.
- You can do squats in many difference ways, hold a weight in your hand close to your chest, bodyweight only, sitting back on a bench and standing back up or if you can handle it even squat down and jump up. Which ever squat you do always make sure you start the movement from your hips first and the knee bend second.
Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 squats resting 1 minute between sets 3 days a week
3. Step Ups/Lunges
- Step ups or lunges are my favourite bone builder exercises because they also add an element of single leg activity which directly transfers into real life.
Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 lunges per leg resting 1minute between sets 2 days a week
- The exercise you can do to maintain upper body bone health is the pushup. The good news is if you can't do a pushup on the ground you can try incline pushups and as you get stronger you can go lower. I start a lot of my clients off doing counter top pushups, taking it slow and controlled.
Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 pushups resting 1 minute between sets 2-3 day a week
Of course there are a couple of factors that I have to mention if you want any sort of benefit from these exercises.
A: You have to make it challenging for your body. The intensity of the exercises has to be just slightly out of your comfort zone. Push yourself to do as many reps as you can stopping about 1-2 reps short of failure. Meaning when you think you can bear to do 1 or 2 more reps with good form that's a good time to stop, rest a minute and repeat the exercise.
B: You have to be consistent. The benefits of exercising comes from being consistent week in week out. The hardest part perhaps is being consistent so it's important to plan out when you will workout before hand.
If you have questions about exercising and increasing your bone health, let me know I am happy to help :)
-Robin Mungall NSCA CPT