Bone Health Exercise
Exercise is as important as good nutrition. Physical therapists are fond of saying, if it's physical – it's therapy. There's a lot of truth to that statement. Exercise improves bone strength and it also improves flexibility, balance and muscle strength. There is also a hidden benefit to exercise where it relates to bone health. Studies have shown that exercise can decrease the risk of falls by 25%. Falls, especially among the elderly, are a leading cause of fractures.
Just fifteen minutes of modest exercise every day, or one hour of exercise twice a week makes a big difference for health. There’s no need to overdose on exercise, unless you want to exercise more for personal enjoyment. Modest exercise is all that’s needed to maintain bone health. Modest exercise also improves brain function, reduces stress, and decreases the risk of heart attack. Excessive exercise with low body weight actually increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Exercise programs should strive to improve balance, flexibility, muscle strength, bone strength, and endurance. Before beginning an exercise program on your own you should probably check with your doctor to make sure your bones, muscles and balance are good enough to attempt some of these exercises without supervision or assistance.
A simple test of balance for fall prevention is to see if you can do the following: get up from a standard chair without using your arms; walk forward several steps; turn around and walk back to the chair: sit without using your arms. If this can be done easily, then balance is not a problem. There are some simple exercises that may improve balance, but supervision and assistance is recommended, preferably with a physical therapist, unless you already have good balance. Otherwise, simple exercises can begin while holding onto a chair or hand rail.
- Practice standing on one foot at a time for 30 seconds
– Beginners: Raise one leg, bend the knee and hold it still
– Straighten the raised leg and swing it out to the side or in circles
– For more advanced balance training
- lift a weight in one arm held out to the side
- stand on a sofa pillow
- Walk on tip toes , then heels, and walk sideways for practice
- Tai Chi and Yoga
Flexibility can be improved by gradual stretching that is held for at least 30 seconds at a time. This allows the muscle to relax and increase length gradually. Stretches can be done while standing, sitting or while lying on the floor. Some major leg muscles that need to be stretched are the calf muscle, the front and back thigh muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings) and the groin muscles.
- Calf muscle stretch
– Sit with the legs out straight and place a towel around the forefoot. Pull the towel towards you while keeping the knees straight. This also strengthens the arms and back.
– Or, place hands on a wall with arms straight. Then keep the feet flat on the floor and back the feet away from the wall while keeping the body as straight as possible. For beginners, do one leg at a time
- Quadriceps stretch: Stand or lie on one side and grab one foot behind your back with the knee bent. Then press the foot against the buttocks and pull the knee backwards.
- Hamstring stretch
– Sit with the legs out straight and bend forward at the waist
– Or, stand and put one leg straight out on a chair and bend forward at the waist
- Groin stretch: Sit with the knees bent with the feet touching each other and pulled towards the crotch, then press the knees out to the side to spread the thighs apart
- Yoga is a bigger commitment, but can improve flexibility
Muscle Strength Exercises
Bones get stronger when muscles are stronger. Training with heavier weights and fewer lifts strengthen bone more than lighter weights that are lifted many times. Honestly though, that difference isn’t as important as just doing something to improve strength. Some simple exercises for strength and balance can be accomplished without using weights.
- Slowly rise from a chair and slowly sit down again ten times without using your arms
– For arm strengthening repeat this using your arms to push up and to let yourself back down into the chair
- Lunges are an excellent exercise. Make a large step forward with one leg, then bend the knee of the back leg until it almost touches the floor, then stand up and repeat with the opposite leg. This strengthens the muscles on the front and back of the thigh. Repeat both legs ten times.
- Lie on stomach and lift legs and shoulders off the floor at the same time. Hole ten seconds and repeat ten times. This strengthens the buttocks and spine.
- Lie on your side and lift one leg away from the floor as high as possible. Hold it for 10 seconds and repeat ten times. Switch to the other side for the opposite leg
- Stand and gradually rise up on your toes as high as possible. Let yourself down slowly. Repeat ten times, then rest and repeat another ten times. Hold onto a chair if our balance is poor
- Lie on your back and bend your knees with the feet on the ground. Fold your arms on your chest and lift your shoulders off the floor. Hold for ten seconds and repeat ten times.
Bone Strength Exercises
Impact exercises are better than low impact exercises for building bone density, but swimming has an undeserved bad reputation for osteoporosis. Any type of exercises require muscles to act on the bones and this helps maintain bone strength. A study of senior women swimmers in Australia showed that swimming was effective for maintaining bone mineral density.
Low-impact activities or whole body vibration (see below) should be considered for people with established osteoporosis because impact training can be risky for brittle bones. Some simple impact exercises for bone strengthening are:
- Heel drop – rise up on the tips of your toes and keep the knees straight, then suddenly relax the ankles so the heel strikes the floor with the weight of your body. Repeat 60 times
- Vertical jump – jump in place with both feet and land firmly. Repeat 30 times
- Jump training – step onto a low platform of approximately 5-10 inches and jump down. Repeat 60 times
- Jumping jacks
Endurance Exercise is good for general health and to improve all aspects of bone health. Activities that require at least 15 minutes of sustained modest exercise and include balance, light impact, and strengthening are recommended. These include:
- Exercise classes
When putting together an exercise program – remember, if it’s physical, it’s therapy, so don’t worry too much about choosing a perfect exercise program. It’s more important to get started and spend at least two hours a week exercising. If you prefer 15-20 minutes a day, then alternate two programs with one day emphasizing balance, flexibility and strength while the next day uses the other program to improve bone strength and endurance.