Resolve to hit the gym in the New Year. Physical exercise is an excellent way to build stronger bones.

Bone and movement are inextricably linked. Think of the great speed a cheetah can achieve, while the poor snail or worm, without a skeleton, can barely achieve a rapid crawl. Bones help convert muscle power into directional motion.

As we grow, our muscles get bigger, and so do our bones. Improving the strength of our muscles will put more muscle strain on bones, which invariably leads to stronger bones. Therefore, the stronger your muscles, the stronger your bones.

Although the exact mechanism is still a bit of a mystery, scientists know that adequate exercise is important for normal bone formation, as it’s the only physiological means of stimulating new bone growth. In contrast, being immobile for long periods of time can lead to rapid bone loss, which, in turn, can lead to osteoporosis.

Weaker muscles, weaker bones
Osteoporosis is characterised by a reduction in bone mass and a deterioration of bone structure – and weak bones can, of course, easily fracture. This, in turn, affects the muscles and the nervous system.

All of us are acquainted with the old adage: “Use it, or lose it!” As muscles are used less and less due too little physical activity or a fracture, the control our nervous system exerts over our muscles also begins to decline. Reflexes subsequently deteriorate, and the risk of stumbling or falling increases.

Falls also lead to a decline in confidence, and the affected person often becomes afraid of doing activities outside the home. This, in turn, leads to less physical activity – and further deterioration of bone and muscle.

A vicious cycle is set in motion.

What type of exercise should I do?

One of the best ways to prevent this cycle is to remain active throughout your life so that your bones and muscles stay strong.

There are two types of exercises that are important for building and maintain bone density: weight- bearing exercise and muscle strengthening.

1. Weight-bearing exercise
High-impact weight-bearing exercises help build bones and keep them strong. This type of exercise is ideally suited for the young, although anyone can do it, provided that there are no existing fractures. If you’re not sure, consult a healthcare provider.

Weight-bearing exercises include high-impact aerobics, jogging/running, skipping, tennis and hiking.

Low-impact weight-bearing exercise is a safe alternative if you can’t do high-impact exercise and is also good for your bones. These include using elliptical training machines, low-impact aerobics, using stair-step machines and brisk walking on a treadmill or outside.

2. Muscle-strengthening exercise
These exercises include activities where you either move your body, weights or some other resistance against gravity. Also called resistance exercises, they include lifting weights, using weight machines or elastic exercise bands, and lifting your own body weight.

Yoga and Pilates can also improve strength, balance and flexibility, but be careful if you’re at increased risk of broken bones. A physiotherapist should be able to help you choose the safest options.

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