Updated: Jan 7
Genes play a major role in our peak bone density. However lifestyle factors can influence whether we reach our full bone density potential. Physical activity is one of the building blocks for strong, healthy bones, along with nutrition & avoiding risk factors for osteoporosis.
Exercise goals for your bone health change as you enter different stages of life.
Childhood, adolescence & early adulthood
The best time to build bone density is during years of rapid growth. During this life stage the skeleton is growing & the exercise goal is to build healthy bones & maximum bone strength. The ideal regime is an average of an hour of physical activity each day.
Adults over 19 years old
At this life stage your body is no longer forming new bones as readily. The exercise goal is to maintain muscle & bone strength. The ideal regime includes weight-bearing activity at least 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week as well as muscle-strengthening or resistance training for an average of 2 days a week to improve bone health.
By the time we reach 40 years old we slowly begin to lose bone density. The exercise goal at this stage is to reduce bone loss & maintain muscle strength to support mobility & balance to reduce the chance of falling. The ideal regime to reduce bone loss includes muscle-strengthening or resistance training for an average of an hour at least 2 days a week. Additional exercises to improve balance, coordination & flexibility should be incorporated at least 2 days a week to reduce the falling risk.
Osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens bones, making them fragile & more likely to break. Losing bone density is a normal part of ageing, but some people lose bone much faster than normal. This can lead to osteoporosis & an increased risk of broken bones.
Osteoporosis risk factors
Controllable risk factors of osteoporosis are:
Inactive lifestyle or lack of exercise
Lack of calcium and/or vitamin D
Smoking or tobacco use
Like muscle, bone is living tissue which responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Weight-bearing & resistance exercises are the best for your bones, building & strengthening bone and slowing bone loss. Activities that put stress on bones stimulate extra deposits of calcium & nudge bone-forming cells into action. The tugging & pushing on bone that occur during strength & power training provide the stress, resulting in stronger, denser bones.
The National Institutes of Health, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, & the National Health Service, a part of the the UK Government-funded medical and health care services both recommend a combination of high-impact exercise, resistance training & aerobics.
Exercises that put a high level of impact on your joints. They tend to include jumping & jolting movements, putting force on your bones & joints.
Exercises which cause microscopic muscle tears to the muscle cells, which the body quickly repairs to help the muscles regenerate & grow stronger.
Aerobic exercise provides cardiovascular conditioning. Breathing controls the amount of oxygen that makes it to the muscles to help them burn fuel & move.
Examples: running, tennis, skiing, gymnastics, jumping rope
Examples: weight training, using resistance bands, body weight work
Examples: swimming, cycling, walking, rowing, dancing
Can Pool Aerobics boost & maintain bone density?
High-intensity Pool Aerobics is resistance exercise as participants working at high speed have to put in a lot of effort to move against the water, putting stress on the bones, which respond to exercise by becoming stronger. Also, because water provides 12-14% more resistance than air, an aerobic workout done at maximum effort in the pool becomes a resistance workout.
I incorporate the wall & the pool floor to get in impact work & add drag or buoyant equipment further intensify the resistance training.
I encourage everyone to engage in a variety of exercise. Some pool aerobics participants do yoga, walk, run, cycle & lift weights. However some can only exercise in the water so I ensure classes are planned to incorporate aerobic exercise, resistance training & impact work while working on endurance, strength, balance & flexibility.
If you haven’t worked out in awhile, have a medical condition or are at risk for heart problems, it’s best to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Nutrition for healthy bones
We need calcium to maintain healthy bones & vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium.
Our bodies don't produce calcium but we can get it from a variety of foods including:
milk, cheese & other dairy
green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, okra & cabbage
fish with edible soft bones, such as sardines & canned salmon
nuts, especially almonds
Calcium-fortified foods & beverages, such as milk substitutes & cereal
Our bodies produce vitamin D in response to skin being exposed to sunlight. We can also get vitamin D from:
oily fish such as salmon & sardines
vitamin D-fortified foods & beverages, such as milk substitutes & cereal
Please discuss with your doctor to confirm your daily calcium & vitamin D needs & if you need to incorporate calcium & vitamin D supplements.
While genes play a major role in our bone density & the rate of bone loss as we age, lifestyle factors also affect our bone health. Discuss with your doctor for guidance in making changes such as incorporating exercise & increasing calcium & vitamin D intake. Additionally, stop smoking & limiting alcohol consumption to two standard drinks per day & have at least two alcohol-free days per week.