The bones that make up our skeleton are made from living tissue, renewing itself continuously throughout our life. One of the mechanisms that help us build stronger bone, as well as maintaining our skeleton, is physical exercise.

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

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 to us, we know that adequate exercise is important for normal bone formation as it is the only physiological means of stimulating new bone formation. Being immobile for lengthy periods of time therefore has the opposite effect on bone and immobilisation therefore causes rapid bone loss which in its turn can lead to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes a reduction in bone mass and a deterioration of bone structure. Osteoporosis weakens bones and weak bones can easily fracture. In turn, fractures cause pain and can put severe limitations on our daily life because they reduce mobility. A catch 24 situation of note!

Less mobility, because of an osteoporosis-related fracture or simply by doing no exercise, means muscles are not being used as much. This lack of movement results in a cutback in the production of new, healthy bone tissue. Thus, weaker muscles result in weaker bones.

All of us are acquainted with the old adage – If you don’t use it, you lose it! Therefore, as muscles are used less and less, the control our nervous system exerts over those muscles begins to decline. This means that reflexes are not as good as they should be and the risk of stumbling or falling increases. If we don’t exercise our muscles, we run the risk of falling, and the more often you fall, the better your chances are of suffering an osteoporotic fracture! Falls also lead to a decline in confidence and patients get too afraid to actually do activities outside of their homes.

All this justifies the idea that improving muscle strength and muscle function is beneficial for our bones. Exercise builds strong muscles, which in turn builds strong bones. Exercise also improves muscle control, balance and coordination, and reduces the risk of falling or suffering a fracture during a fall.

Exercise forms an important part of our lives – from childhood to old age, it benefits us all in different ways

  • Toddlers to Teenagers – it will help build strong bones
  • Adults  – it will help maintain their bones
  • The elderly  – it will help prevent bone loss and falls

Even patients with fractures can benefit from special exercises and training, which can improve muscle strength and muscle function. This allows mobilization and improves daily life activities.

What type of exercise should I do?

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

Weight-bearing exercise

High-impact weight-bearing exercises help build bones and keep them strong. This type of exercise should be avoided if you already have a fracture and is ideally suited for the young, although anyone can do this, provided that there are no existing fractures and if you are not sure, consult a healthcare provider. These exercises include high-impact aerobics, jogging/running, skipping, tennis and hiking.
Low-impact weight-bearing exercise is a safe alternative if you cannot 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.

Muscle-strengthening exercise

These exercises include activities where you either move your body, weights or some other resistance against gravity. They are also known as resistance exercises. These include lifting weights, using weight machines, using elastic exercise bands and lifting your own body weight. Yoga and Pilates can also improve strength, balance and flexibility, but caution needs to be exercised for those at increased risk of broken bones. A physiotherapist should be able to help you with the safest options.