What Kind of Exercise Builds the Strongest Bones?

imactBone loss happens. It’s just a fact of life once you’re over 40. But the more we can do to slow bone loss during the second half of life, the better chance we have of avoiding fractures.

And believe me, avoiding fractures should be close to the top of your priority list for healthy aging.

Vitamin X(ercise): What’s the Optimal Dose?

One often overlooked bone-building “nutrient” is Vitamin X, as in Xercise.  A recent study found that seniors who worked out at least twice a week lost dramatically less bone from their spine and hips than those who exercised less than twice a week.  Yes, please.

What are Low, Medium and High Impact Exercises?

To get the most bone-building benefit from your exercise, include as much impact as you can tolerate. Swimming, biking, and pilates are non-impact exercises.. Walking (golfing, hiking) is relatively light impact. Hopping or skipping (tennis, aerobics) is moderate impact. Running and jumping are high impact. Basically, the more airborne you are, the higher the impact. And the more impact you can tolerate, the more effective it is in strengthening bones…but please use common sense.

Impact is Not the Same as Intensity

Keep in mind that impact is not the same as intensity. Impact builds bones. Intensity improves cardiovascular fitness. You can have a very intense workout with virtually no impact–although the opposite is a little harder to pull off. The easiest way to judge intensity is by how out of breath you are. If you can easily carry on an extended conversation, that’s low intensity exercise.

Add Resistance

The other essential element for strengthening bones is resistance, which strengthens muscles.   Lifting weights, using elastic bands, water resistance, and lifting your body weight are all resistance exercises. The greater the resistance, the greater the gains but please use common sense. Resistance exercise can be done at high or low intensity, and with high or low impact.

Surprise! Protein Builds Bones

Ironically, there’s a persistent myth that protein causes weak bones. But in fact, insufficient protein intake may be a primary cause of bone loss during the second half of life.  Once you’re over 50, getting enough protein may be even more important than doubling up on your calcium intake.  See also: 3 Reasons to Toss Your Calcium Supplements.

How Does Your Bone-Building Regimen Stack Up?

Give yourself a point for every yes:

  1. Do you exercise at least twice every week, at least 30 minutes per session?
  2. Do you engage in some moderate or high impact activities (if tolerated) at least twice a week?
  3. Do you do some sort of strength or resistance training at least twice a week?
  4. Do you exercise at moderate to high intensity at least twice a week?
  5. Do you eat some high quality protein at every meal?


0-1: You’re probably losing bone density faster than you need to. What could you add to your regimen?

2-3: You’re doing pretty well but you can probably slow down bone less even further by adding more Yes’s.

4-5: You’re doing a great job. Keep up the good work!

2 thoughts on “What Kind of Exercise Builds the Strongest Bones?

  1. So I’m a powerlifter. How do I stack up? I don’t run or jog, I’m too tired after deadlifting 300+ lbs — and I am no young woman anymore. But I think my bones are pretty solid regardless. I’ve had folks try to tell me I need to starting running…I’d rather just go do some squats.

    1. Sounds like you’ve got #1, 3, and 4 nailed. (Maybe 5, too). Do you skip rope? That would count as impact. Or burpees, hop-ups, etc.

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