Body & Fitness

Why good health starts with your bones

Exercise is vital for healthy bones, but be selective about your workout.

The crucial time for building strong bones is up to your mid-20s when your skeleton is growing. During this time, we should be trying to build up as much bone as possible to last us a lifetime.

The stronger our bones are, the better off we’ll be later in life.

After the age of about 35, bone loss becomes a part of the normal ageing process. But you can still slow the rate at which you lose bone after that age if you do regular physical activity, especially weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Being active can reduce your risk of breaking a bone, particularly your hip, by up to 50%.

It’s never too late to start exercising.

Suitable, simple activities include:

• Stair climbing

• Cross-training machines

• Heavy gardening, such as digging

If you already have osteoporosis or fragile bones, exercising can seem daunting, especially if you are afraid of falling.

However, it is important to remember that regular physical activity can help to keep your bones strong and reduce the risk of a fracture in the future.

You should talk to your GP about the sort of exercise you want to do before you try it. Some sorts are not good for you, particularly anything that is high impact – for example, running and jumping.

You should also avoid anything that involves bending forwards and twisting at the waist as this can put pressure on the spine and may lead to a fracture. Therefore, activities such as tennis and golf may not be a good idea, while touching your toes, doing sit-ups and some yoga poses can also be risky.

As well as making your bones stronger, exercise can help to boost stamina and improve balance.

Tai chi is particularly good for people with osteoporosis because it is low impact and more gentle than some other forms of exercise. Plus, it is good for balance and it helps to strengthen your legs and make you more steady on your feet.

Yoga can also help with balance but if you have fragile bones, don’t do moves that involve bending forwards or twisting.

While swimming doesn’t build strong bones, it can help improve stamina and is good for overall health. Water activity is also useful if you’ve suffered broken bones and are worried that other forms of exercise could result in a fall.

Some of the best exercises for building and maintaining strong bones are weight-bearing and muscle-building activities. Weight-bearing means any exercise performed standing up.

When your weight is being supported by your feet and legs, your bones have to work harder, and your body responds to this by increasing bone density. This makes your bones stronger.

Good types of weight-bearing exercise include:

• Brisk walking

• Running

• Dancing

• Aerobics or Zumba

• Tennis

Muscle strengthening means activity that requires your muscles to work harder than normal. This sort of resistance exercise works the tendons that attach muscle to bone, which in turn boosts your bone strength.

Good types of muscle-strengthening exercise include:

• Lifting weights

• Working out with a resistance band

• Using your own body weight for exercise, such as press-ups or planks

• Yoga and Pilates

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