You’ve probably heard that weight-bearing exercise is good for your bones and helps prevent osteoporosis, a progressive condition that causes your bones to become brittle and weak. However, I find many of my patients are not sure what weight-bearing exercise is, how much they need and why it is important to strong bones.
How Does Weight-Bearing Exercise Help Bones?
You may not think of bones as living tissue, but they are – just like muscle. After 30, both men and women usually begin to lose bone mass.
Weight-bearing exercise makes your body work against gravity, helping to strengthen bones. In addition, it can assist with building muscles and the ability to balance.
Weight-bearing exercise can be high impact or low impact. Take your pick – both help your bones.
Low-impact weight-bearing exercise includes:
- Stair-step or elliptical training machines
- Low-impact aerobics
- Working with weights
High-impact weight-bearing exercise includes:
- High-impact aerobics
- Jogging or running
- Jumping rope
- Climbing stairs
Some types of exercise, such as swimming and bicycling, help you build healthy muscles and a strong heart but are not weight bearing. Yoga, tai chi and Pilates generally are not thought of as weight bearing, but they can improve your strength and balance, reducing your chances of falling.
How Much Weight-Bearing Exercise Do You Need?
The National Institutes of Health recommend 30 minutes a day most days of the week, but that time can be spread out through the day in shorter sessions. Try setting a timer and taking a 10-minute exercise break every 30 minutes or so.
Now, Get Started!
If you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, weight-bearing exercise may help. But check with your doctor first. Certain exercises, particularly those in which you bend or twist your spine, may be dangerous.
And, of course, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program if you have a health problem such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or you’re over 40.
I work with my patients to help prevent or treat bone weakness with a multidisciplinary approach. In addition to exercise, I recommend a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, with supplements if needed. Ask your doctor about your specific needs. A bone density test and medication may be needed as well.
Linda Ly, M.D., is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who cares for patients at Meyerland Plaza Clinic. Her clinical interests include preventive medicine, hypertension and diabetes.