Keep Bones Strong by Making Workouts a Priority

Kim Henige, EdD

Kim Henige, EdD

As a species, our bones have gone through many changes over time. A recent report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that as humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer culture to farming our food, our bones became weaker.

Today in the U.S., approximately 50% of women and 25% of men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, a condition where bones become weak and less dense. If the broken bone is in the hip or spine, there is about a 20% chance that the individual will die within one year. For those who survive, quality of life declines significantly and many lose their independence or end up in long-term care. The good news is that osteoporosis can be prevented, and we can start to focus on prevention years before reaching middle age by developing lifestyle strategies to decrease our risk.

Bones become stronger by resisting stressors, such as the repeated pounding on the foot and leg bones when we run or the effort involved in lifting heavy weights. Regular weight-bearing and impact exercises provide a planned and structured way to put stress on the bones. Over time, bone responds to exercise-related stress by becoming stronger and more dense. Stronger bones are more resistant to breaks.

The body also constantly strives for efficiency—to use as little energy as possible—to minimize the amount of work required to maintain function in the body’s systems. When stress doesn’t exist—like when we stop our exercise routine—the body kicks into efficiency mode. It stops using energy to maintain bone strength and the bones begin to lose their density.

The amount of exercise needed to strengthen bones will vary person to person. The key factor is to regularly challenge the body with an amount of physical stress that exceeds what is typical for that individual on a daily basis. For people who don’t move much, simply walking and performing light resistance training may be enough. More active individuals may benefit from high-impact activities such as jogging or stair climbing and moderate to high levels of resistance training.

To learn more about how exercise strengthens bones, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation website.

Kim Henige, EdD, CSCS, ACSM EP-C, is an associate professor and undergraduate program coordinator in the department of kinesiology at California State University, Northridge.

One thought on “Keep Bones Strong by Making Workouts a Priority

  1. Pingback: 2015’s Top Ten Most Read Posts | I Spy Physiology Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s