How much exercise is enough for bone health?

As we age, we will begin to notice certain changes in our abilities to compete in athletic activities and the duration our body try to recover from demanding physical activity. The body naturally becomes weaker as we age; reaction time becomes slower and bone and muscle mass begin to diminish.

Everyone knows that weight bearing exercise is beneficial for bone building and reduces the risk of fractures. Some might be thinking that time is at premium and not willing to spend time lifting heavy weights and sweating in a gym. Not necessarily! A few studies show that low impact activities can also reduce the risk of fractures.

20 minutes of walking
A study (Stattin et al., 2017) followed over 65,000 Swedish men and women for 17 years and found that participants who walked or bicycled daily for even short periods of time had a lower fracture rate compared with those who did not. Regardless of sex or age, even relatively sedentary people could lower their fracture risk by exercising just a little bit every day. As long as they got at least an hour of exercise per week, these otherwise inactive people had a 13% lower rate of hip fractures and a 6% lower rate of any fracture compared to people who did none at all.

Of course, the more exercise they got, the better the results: those with 20 minutes of walking or cycling every day, which translates to about 2 hours per week — had a 23% lower rate of hip fracture and a 13% lower rate of any fracture.


Light-load power training
The next study (Hamaguchi et al., 2017) had a small group of 7 postmenopausal women undergo six weeks of training wearing a weighted vest with 380-760 g (roughly from 1.75 pounds) of added weight. With just two workout sessions per week, the participants saw improvements in pelvis BMD (1.6%) and knee extensor strength (15.5%) — which is helpful in maintaining balance and preventing falls. Workouts consisted of squats, front lunges, side lunges, calf raises and toe raises (eight sets of three repetitions with a 15-second rest between each set).


Ways to prevent tissue damage and pain during exercise:
1. Stay hydrated while you work out.
2. Reduce the intensity of your workout by setting a specific goal for yourself each week and work at a pace that is comfortable for you to achieve it. If you feel pain develop, listen to your body.
3. Include some types of weight bearing exercise such as lifting weights to maintain your bone and muscle.
4. Allow yourself time to recover.  It will take longer as you age.  This includes getting a good night’s sleep. Seven to nine hours are recommended for adults, but listen to your body to make sure you get what you need.
5. Be sure to eat a balanced diet and don’t forget to include the protein and minerals that your workout may have depleted.
6. Meet your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program, and, if you notice any dizziness or sharp pain, don’t push through it – get it checked out!

Hamaguchi K, Kurihara T, Fujimoto M, et al. The effects of low-repetition and light-load power training on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women with sarcopenia: a pilot study. BMC Geriatrics 2017; 17:102. doi:10.1186/s12877-017-0490-8.
Stattin K., Michaëlsson K., Larsson S.C., Wolk A., & Byberg L. Leisure-Time Physical Activity and Risk of Fracture: A Cohort Study of 66,940 Men and Women. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 2017;32(8):1599-1606. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.3161.

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