Thinking about bone health is smart at any age -- and along with diet, exercise is one of the best ways to ensure a strong skeleton throughout your whole life. Not all physical activities build bone mass, but the ones that do often make a significant difference, fighting the natural bone loss that occurs over time. If you're not active now, visit your doctor before beginning a new workout routine.
Resistance training is good news for your bones, as the stress caused by this type of exercise prompts new tissue growth. Lift weights, use selectorized machines at the gym, try resistance bands or rely on your own body weight with pushups, pullups, crunches and lunges. You need to challenge yourself for the greatest benefit, so choose a weight or resistance that fatigues your muscles by the 12th repetition. Work all major muscle groups twice every week, allowing muscles 24 hours of rest between workouts.
For the greatest bone gains, stick to higher-impact cardio activities such as power walking, running and jumping rope. Lower-impact exercises such as cycling or using the elliptical trainer do little to build bone density. And don't expect much from swimming; according to IDEAFit.com, professional swimmers sometimes have even lower bone density than nonexercisers, presumably because of the long hours spent with reduced gravity. To meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, spend 150 to 300 minutes per week on moderate-intensity aerobic activities, or 75 to 150 minutes per week on vigorous-intensity aerobic activities. During moderate cardio you can speak easily, but singing is difficult; during vigorous cardio, you need to take a breath after just a few words.
Healthy Bone Diet
Along with exercise, keep your bones happy by eating calcium-rich foods such as yogurt and tofu for a total of 1,000 mg of calcium per day. You also need vitamin D to absorb calcium; you may already get enough if you live in a sunny climate, but aim for 400 to 800 IU per day through foods like fortified low-fat cheese or juice. If your diet is lacking in vitamin D and a blood test confirms it, MayoClinic.com says that your doctor may recommend supplements, not to exceed 4,000 IU per day.
Why It Matters
Even when you're young, the choices you make now affect bone density as you age. Proper bone maintenance is especially critical for women, who lose 1 to 2 percent of their bone tissue every year after menopause. This can lead to osteoporosis, which causes bones to become brittle and fracture easily. Even well before menopause, you could develop a condition called osteopenia, in which bone density falls below normal. In fact, 16 percent of 25-year-old women have this condition, according to the University of Washington. Osteopenia increases your risk of osteoporosis in later years -- so keep building that bone mass.
- MayoClinic.com: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
- IDEAFit.com: Exercise and Bone Strength
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Why Strength Training?
- Washington State University: Treatment of Osteoporosis
- MayoClinic.com: Osteoporosis: Prevention
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.