Did you know that May is National Osteoporosis Awareness Month? It’s the perfect time to think about preventing bone loss. The bad news: You can’t fix your genetic and environmental contributors to bone loss. The good news: Exercising and ensuring adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D intake can help improve bone health.
To strengthen your bones, use these strategies from Maria Luque, PhD, MS, CHES, teacher at the College of Health and Human Services at Trident University International and owner of Fitness in Menopause.
Proper diet develops skeletal strength and maintains the bone’s role as a mineral storehouse. Minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, which the body must have to perform every day, are stored in bone. If the body can’t get these minerals from our diet, it takes them from our bones, reducing bone mass and strength (OSG 2004).
Getting that calcium from food is preferred over taking supplements. While eating dairy products is the most efficient way to get enough calcium, you can also get it from other food sources. Consuming calcium on its own, however, is not enough. Proper absorption of calcium also depends on sufficient vitamin D intake.
Physical activity can influence both bone and muscle metabolism (Tagliaferri et al. 2015). Osteogenesis (bone formation) occurs in response to mechanical loading. Inactivity, with its lack of loading, prevents bones from receiving the signal to adapt, which causes bone loss.
Many studies—such as McMillan et al. (2017)—have shown that walking has only a limited impact on bone. If combined with impact and resistance training, however, walking can help maintain bone mineral density (BMD) in the hip region and in the lumbar and sacral spine (Karaguzel & Holick 2010). In people over 65, increasing daily steps by 25% has been associated with an increase in hip BMD (McMillan et al. 2017).
PRT has proven to be the most effective way to increase BMD in women and older adults and to maintain BMD in men (McMillan et al. 2017). Resistance training also improves muscle mass and strength (Karaguzel & Holick 2010), both of which are crucial to bone formation as well as fall prevention, which becomes a more pronounced risk in older adults.
Emphasize exercises that target posture muscles, such as back and spinal extensors, as well as those that increase strength in functional movements, such as stair climbing or box squats.
Activities that produce a weighted impact on the skeleton are especially bone producing. The most effective ones induce high-magnitude strains in bone at a high rate (Watson et al. 2015). Brief, high-impact exercises such as hopping, skipping and jumping can increase BMD, muscle strength and power (McMillan et al. 2017). Adding unilateral and multiplanar components—such as single-leg hopping or side, front and back hops—can improve balance and proprioception, two key factors in fall prevention.
HiPRT combines heavy resistance training with high-impact activities. The combination of progressively increasing weight in resistance exercises while boosting impact loading in high-intensity exercises can enhance bone mass, physical function and posture while decreasing the risk of osteoporotic fracture (Watson et al. 2015). However, it is best to check with your doctor to find out if HiPRT is safe for you and then to work with a qualified personal trainer to show you what to do.