Building bone is not a passive pursuit. It is bold and purposeful, and supports a natural remodeling process. If we stimulate them they strengthen, if too quiet, they can deteriorate. For bones respond to what we ask of them. So ask them to grow.
We do not do this recklessly, but armed with education about how to protect existing bone and appropriately encourage bone density increases. If you have concern that bone density can’t build after a certain age, studies show improvement in postmenopausal women, and some of those studies focus solely on the positive effects of exercise. Whether increasing or maintaining what you have, bone is alive and offers continuous opportunity for strengthening.
First – Safeguard
Take care of the most vulnerable (hips, wrists and thoracic spine) by avoiding flexion (forward bending) and spinal rotation because they place too great a load on the spinal vertebrae – and by increasing balance work, because 90% of hip and 33% of vertebral fractures result from falling.1
Then – Be Active
A combination of (1) weight bearing, (2) ground reaction and (3) resistance training inspires bone density even in older women.2 The load and intensity of these exercises should take into account your personal bone density and fitness level.
- 1. Bear Weight
Bones respond to gravitational force. That’s why astronauts lose bone density in outer space – and why we use the earth’s pull to help build bone. Transferring body weight onto a leg or arm cues those bones to strengthen, for they adapt to the load under which they are placed. Many Pilates exercises can be done unilaterally to intensify bone building benefits.
Walking is shown to improve spinal and hip bones, and some suggest it’s more effective when done above the anaerobic threshold.3 Standing on one leg for a minute, three times a day, can be equal to walking for 53 minutes for thigh and hip bones and strengthens balance to counteract falls.4 Hold on if needed when working on balance.
A strong core and upper back together with exercise modifications can minimize wrist strain and regulate how much weight wrists bear.
- Make an Impact
Gentle stomping, heel drops or dancing build hip bone, and Cleveland Clinic suggests stomping each foot four times, twice daily.
A study of postmenopausal women showed increases in spinal stability with a combination of both weight-bearing and impact exercise – and a significant decrease without it.5
- Create Resistance
Bone thickens when the tendons of a contracting muscle pull on it. A study of postmenopausal women showed increase in femur and lumbar spine from strength training, and a decrease in the control group.6 Pilates provides resistance with apparatus springs, body weight and free weights.
- National Institutes of Health
- Marques, Mota, Machado, et al. Calcif Tissue Int. 2011
- Hatori, Hasegawa, Hitoshi, Calcif Tissue Int. 1993
- Sakamoto et al, 2006
- Bravo, Gauthier, Roy, Am Geriatr Soc. 1996
- Nelson, Fiatarone, Morganti, JAMA 1994
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