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What is the Best Exercise for Bone Health?

Riding a bike for local errands is one of the tips for getting in shapeMost people reach their greatest bone density by around the age of 30.  Healthy bone will continuously shed old bone cells and rebuild with new bone. However, past the age of 30, often there is more bone loss than is rebuilt. Genetics, nutrition and the amount of physical activity in youth all affect how susceptible we are to osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones as we age. Postmenopausal women are likely to suffer bone loss, as are men over the age of 70.

The good news is that studies show that exercise, when done correctly for your condition, is one of the best ways to naturally maintain bone health and density.  The right amount of stress stimulates the formation of new bone, replacing the natural shedding of old worn out bone.

What kind of exercise is good for the bones?  If you have osteoporosis, there are some exercises that are to be avoided.  These include high-impact activities such as jogging or high-impact aerobics. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, there are two kinds of exercise that are effective for building and maintaining good bone density: weight-bearing exercise and muscle strengthening exercise.

Weight-bearing exercise moves you against gravity. If you have arthritis or osteoporosis that puts you at risk for breaking a bone, you will need to avoid the high impact exercise.  Your health-care provider will be able to advise you as to which activities are best for you.

High impact exercise includes activities such as jogging or running, jumping rope, racquetball and tennis.

Low impact exercises include walking –nature walks are my favorite, ballroom dancing, elliptical machines, stair-step machines and treadmill machines.

Muscle-strengthening exercises include free weights, weight machines, and using elastic bands. I always recommend to my massage clients that they find a qualified fitness instructor to learn the proper way to use free weights and weight machines.

Avoid those yoga poses and any movements such as toe-touching, where you bend forward at the waist; spontaneous crush fractures of the spine can occur when coming back up from these positions. For over a decade I did massage in the clinic of a sports medicine chiropractor who told me that the most common injury suffered by body=builders is low back pain. It is also very easy to injure the intricate muscling of the shoulder by using weights incorrectly.

Just as it has been found that the old straight-leg sit-ups are harmful to the back, so it Is that many of the common free weight exercises can damage muscles, ligaments and joints because they work against good body mechanics.  Most any upper body exercises that have you holding weights extended out from the body core will cause undue strain to ligaments and joints.  It is very easy to work the arms out of position, especially since many people spend a great deal of time in poor posture sitting at a desk. The classic straight leg lifts will often transfer to the low back muscles causing pain and possible damage to the lumbar spine.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation advises that exercises such as cycling or swimming are excellent for cardiovascular health benefits, but are not considered to be to be effective for building bone mass. Maintaining a good posture is very important, as well as developing balance and coordination. The Foundation suggests that Tai Chic is excellent for balance and coordination, but less effective for building bone mass.

Tai Chi is my personal favorite, perhaps because it was what I learned from my first teachers.  Part of the appeal for me is that it consists of flowing and beautiful movements as well as training and strengthening deep breathing.  It really is a moving meditation.  It is also a good exercise in that it gently works the whole body including the lateral muscles, developing good balance. Because we modern humans are most often moving and sitting in very straight and linear lines, our lateral muscles of core and limbs tend to weak and unstable.

Tai Chi is one of the best ways to build balance and co-ordination. While some experts do not consider that Tai Chi to has a direct benefit on bone mass, the website constructed by Kate Lindemann, Ph.D.  lists a number of studies that show that Tai Chi is effective for maintaining bone density. In addition, surprisingly some of the research found that more people stayed with the Tai Chi program than with the weight-lifting program. After deciding to learn Tai Chi, and trying to find classes and finding them too expensive, and CD’s went through the moves too fast to learn from, Dr. Lindemann found this site, containing an e-book with animations, worked well for her:

The very best exercise program is the one that you do.  Success is often a result of how much you enjoy the activity.  For many, combining the exercise with social benefit of a class or hiking group greatly empowers the ability to stay with the activity and avoid it becoming just a chore. Vary the activities, and include cardiovascular, impact, muscle strengthening as well as balance and coordination activities. It does not matter if you do it early in the day or late after work.  It is just as effective if you break the activities up into smaller time frames.  Muscle strengthening with free weights can be done a few times a week; just remember to give each muscle group a day or two in between to allow for muscle recovery and strengthening and to get the greatest benefit.

I would love it if you would write in about your favorite activities. Do you exercise with a system of workouts, or is your exercise imbedded in an activity such as dance or hiking in nature while bird-watching? Do you choose your “workout” by how much you like it? What kind of exercise is your favorite?  Please write in about your experiences in the Comments section below.

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