Weight-bearing exercise has long been known to build bone density—and contrary to popular belief, lifting weights is not enough.
Make an Impact
If you want to build healthy bones, the best thing you can do is to be sure you’re including “impact” activities. In other words, try running, jumping, or walking. These activities create forces that move through your bones and help with the bone remodeling process that adds density.
Jump: If you really want to go high-impact, try jumping. One study showed that premenopausal women who performed 10 to 20 high-impact jumps, with 30 seconds of rest in between each jump, twice a day for four months significantly increased bone density in their hip bones compared to a group of women who did not jump.[i] As an added bonus, high-impact jumping torches calories.
Walk: If jumping isn’t your style, don’t underestimate the value of a brisk walk. The Nurses’ Health Study included data from more than 60,000 postmenopausal women. The women who walked briskly at least four times per week had a lower risk of hip fractures compared to their counterparts who either didn’t walk or walked less often or more slowly.[ii]
Mixed-Up Movement: Mixed-up movement is exactly what it sounds like—movement that mixes it up by taking you in different directions. Whether walking, jogging, or hopping, throw in what is referred to as odd impacts—meaning that you move sideways, backwards, or any direction other than straight ahead. Tennis players know all about mixed-up movement. Research has shown that such odd-impact activity can help build stronger bones and keep hip and spine fragility at bay.[iii]
What About Weight Lifting?
It turns out, weight lifting alone is not enough to build bone density—but don’t discount the value of pumping iron. Strength training is an important part of any well-rounded fitness regimen. Weight training plus other high-impact exercise is an excellent recipe for strong bones.
One study showed that women participating in high-impact sports—such as volleyball, hurdling, squash, soccer, and speed skating—had higher bone density than those competing in weight lifting.[iv] Weight lifting wasn’t a total wash, though—the weight lifters had stronger bones than women who participated in no-impact sports, such as swimming and bicycling.
Another study showed that women who included jumping and weight lifting in their fitness program improved the density of their spines by about 2 percent compared to a control group.[v] Interestingly, the women who included both upper and lower body strength training showed the most benefit—lower body strength training alone was not enough.
Shake it Up
If you’ve written off whole-body vibration platforms as a silly fad, reconsider. One study has shown that postmenopausal women who used the vibration platform for five minutes three times a week had 2 percent more spinal bone density compared to a group of control women who did not vibrate—and who actually lost about a half a percent of bone density in their spines.[vi]
These machines have gone mainstream, cropping up in gyms all over the country. While they are no substitute for good old-fashioned exercise, they could play a role in building bone density.
[i] Tucker LA, Strong JE, Lecheminant JD, et al: Effect of Two Jumping Programs on Hip Bone Mineral Density in Premenopausal Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. American Journal of Health Promotion. Published early online January 24, 2014.
[ii] Feskanich D, Willett W, Colditz G. Walking and leisure-time activity and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2002; 288(18): 2300-2306.
[iii] Nikander R, Kannus P, Dastidar P, et al: Targeted exercises against hip fragility. Osteoporosis International. 2009; 20(8): 1321-1328.
[iv] Nikander R, Sievanen H, Heinonen A, et al: Femoral neck structure in adult female athletes subjected to different loading modalities. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. 2005; 20(3): 520-528.
[v] Winters-Stone KM, Snow CM. Site-specific response of bone to exercise in premenopausal women. Bone. 2006; 39(6): 1203-1209.
[vi] Lai CL, Tseng SY, Chen CN, et al: Effect of 6 months of whole body vibration on lumbar spine bone density in postmenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2013; 8: 1603-1609.