Updated: May 23
Exercise is important for building strong bones when we are young, and is essential for maintaining bone strength as we age. Exercise works on bones much like it works on muscles — by making them stronger. Because bone is a living tissue, it changes in response to the forces placed upon it.
However, not all exercises are equal when it comes to building strong bones or preventing osteoporosis.
Cycling enhances cardiovascular fitness. However, because there is very little impact on the body from this sport, there is little or no corresponding improvements in bone mass. In fact, repeated studies have shown that elite cyclists are prone to low bone mass, especially in the spine, pelvic and hip regions.
Studies show the same condition in swimmers who choose only to pursue that sport, without added strength exercises.
Further studies have looked at the bone health of runners, and have also found that just running on its own did not materially promote bone health.
Swimming, biking and running support good health. But to build strong bones, you need to complement these sports with weight bearing exercise, and strength training.
Strength train for strong bones
Numerous studies have shown that strength training can play a role in slowing bone loss, and several show it can even build bone.
Exercise that puts stress on bones such as deadlifts, lunges and squats can nudge bone-forming cells into action. That stress comes from the tugging and pushing on bone that occur during strength training. The result is stronger, denser bones.
You do not need to spend hours each day lifting weights to benefit from strength training. You can see significant improvement with just two to three 20 or 30 minute strength training sessions per week.
Whatever sport you enjoy, add strength training to build strong bones.