Weight-Bearing Exercise: 8 Workouts for Strong Bones

Here are the latest weight-bearing workout trends.

From the WebMD Archives

The Latest Weight-Bearing Workout Trends

What are the best ways to exercise and improve your bone health when you have osteoporosis? Try weight-bearing workouts that stress bones and muscles more than your everyday life, says Paul Mystkowski, MD, an endocrinologist at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle and clinical faculty member of the University of Washington in Seattle. Talk to your doctor and make sure the workout you choose is safe for you. Then give these latest trends a try!

1. Tai Chi

Tai chi -- a form of slow, graceful moves -- builds both coordination and strong bones. A study reported in Physician and Sportsmedicine found that tai chi could slow bone loss in postmenopausal women. The women, who did 45 minutes of tai chi a day, five days a week for a year, enjoyed a rate of bone loss up to three-and-a-half times slower than the non-tai-chi group. Their bone health gains showed up on bone mineral density tests.

2. Yoga

A study reported in Yoga Journal found an increase in bone mineral density in the spine for women who did yoga regularly. From the slow, precise Iyengar style to the athletic, vigorous ashtanga, yoga can build bone health in your hips, spine, and wrists -- the bones most vulnerable to fracture.

Standing poses like Warrior I and II work the large bones of the hips and legs, while poses like Downward Dog work the wrists, arms, and shoulders. Both the Cobra and Locust poses, which work the back muscles, may preserve the health of the spine. Yoga also sharpens your balance, coordination, concentration, and body awareness -- and thus helps prevent falls.

3. Brisk Walking

One fitness trend that never goes away, walking is still hugely popular among women -- and a great way to revamp your bone health. A study of nurses found that walking four hours a week gave them a 41% lower risk of hip fractures, compared to walking less than an hour a week. Brisk walking is best, but you can adapt your speed to your current fitness level. Walking is free, and you can do it anywhere, anytime, even when you're traveling.

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4. Golf

Maybe you've always thought golf was for old folks -- people who could no longer do "real" sports. Think again. Shouldering that golf bag around 18 holes, and swinging the big clubs to drive the ball long, adds up to a lot of upper-body work. And all that walking, and chasing balls lost in the rough, means plenty of work for your hips and spine. Golf gives "weight-bearing exercise" a whole new name.

5. Dancing

OK, maybe you've got two left feet, or you were never the star in ballet. But we're not talking point shoes here; we're talking the hottest trends in salsa, samba, Lindy hop, rhumba, East coast swing, foxtrot, and tango. Use those hips to get your heart pumping in more ways than one, and build strong bones while you're at it.

Or try the newest aerobics, kickboxing, or step class at your health club or local Y. New classes emerge every few months to keep members motivated. A lot of them now combine strength training with dance or step moves -- and will perk up your balance as well.

6. Hiking

The work of weight-bearing -- and the impact as your feet hit the ground -- can increase bone density, especially in your hips. It's just like walking, and then some. You'll get even more impact on those bones if you're going uphill or downhill, and that can improve bone health even more. More impact on your feet and legs translates into more bone density, says the surgeon general.

And with hiking, boredom is rarely an issue. You're often socializing and meeting new people, as well as expanding your horizons as you see new landscapes.

7. Racquet Sports

Tennis, squash, and paddle tennis can rally your bone density. You're stressing your racquet arm, wrist, and shoulder every time you hit the ball, and working your hips and spine with all that running around -- and chasing down wild balls.

If you're going for racquet sports, go for singles. You'll get a lot more from your workout in terms of bone health, since you'll be running around more.

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8. Strength Training

Lifting weights, using the weight machines at your health club, or doing calisthenics, are forms of strength or resistance training. You're working against some form of resistance -- whether it's a set of "free" weights, your own body weight, or weight machines -- to stress a sequence of muscles and bones. Strength training at least twice a week, says the surgeon general, is needed to stimulate bone growth.

Every gym has a trainer who can design a workout for your legs, back, shoulders, and arms -- one that's right for your fitness level and can rally your bone health.

Thin Bones Beware

Take a few exercise precautions if you already have bone thinning:

  • Because your fracture risk is higher than normal, be cautious about trying any exercise with the potential for serious falls, like downhill skiing, ice skating, or inline skating.
  • If you have bone thinning in your spine, you may want to forgo any deep backbends in yoga.
  • Again, check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program, especially if you're taking medications that slow your coordination or throw off your balance.

One final tip: Be patient. The bone-building phase in young adults -- at its speediest -- takes three to four months, and it may take a lot longer if you have osteoporosis or are older. So you won't be seeing big changes on any bone density tests after your first week of working out. Bones change slowly -- but they do change.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 06, 2008

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Osteoporosis: Bone Up on Bone Loss."

National Osteoporosis Foundation: "About Osteoporosis: Fast Facts."

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services: "Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General," published in 2004.

Medicinenet: "Osteoporosis."

Paul Mystkowski, MD, endocrinologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle; clinical faculty member of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Yoga Journal, May/June 2001, p 112.

The Physician and Sportsmedicine, December 2004; vol 32.

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