Adding a Bone Workout to Your Exercise Regimen
Though The Healthy Bones Book turns a zoom lens on the contribution nutrients and food make to maintaining and/or restoring bone density, the book includes a small passionate subtext on the part exercise plays in strengthening bone. I wondered how that works and spent some time looking into it. It’s a great story and also told me a lot about what type of exercise is most efficient for building bone.
You know what happens to muscles when you exercise; you stress a muscle by asking it to do more than it usually does and it responds by gaining mass. Similar story with exercise and bone. When you stress a bone sufficiently, it senses a need to gain strength to avoid being overwhelmed. So physical stress signals bone to produce cells that grow bone. These cells migrate to the area under stress and secrete collagen and other proteins that are laid down between existing bone cells to strengthen the area. These eventually mineralize to form new bone.
What’s important here is that the stress has to be perceived by the bone as a threat — which it does during weight-bearing exercise when adjacent muscle and bone are working together, both enduring stress. Not so when, for example, you swim. Muscles love it but bones hardly notice. Keep in mind that if you have osteoporosis, running puts weight on your bone but could also put pressure the bone can’t bear, so if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, be sure to plan your exercise regimen with your doctor.
For everyone, walking is a great way to start bone health exercise. After all, when you stand your skeleton is fighting gravity and bearing all your weight, and when you walk – especially if vigorously – your muscles and bones are working together to take you forward at a brisk pace. And keep in mind – hips are vulnerable to fracture and hip fractures can be catastrophic in terms of independence. So while you can target some bones, like arm bones, for strengthening, walking is about the only exercise everyone can do to stress the hip bones.
So spend time learning about the nutrient groups that help your body absorb and transport nutrients to the site of bone. And exercise, to provoke your bones into using every bit of that cellular mechanism to keep you strong.