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Jockology: exercises for strong bones

This week’s Jockology column (just posted) takes on a frequently asked question: What type of exercise is best for maintaining strong bones?

Once you reach adulthood, it’s basically one long fight against the slow but inexorable loss of bone strength – and the key to that fight, many of us assume, is weight-bearing activities.

But the latest research shows that resistance-training exercises like lifting weights can also play a crucial role in bone health – and in some cases are even more effective than weight-bearing activities such as elliptical training. [read the rest of the column...]

When my dad read the column this morning, he asked me if that meant that all the biking he does is no good for maintaining his bone strength. He’s correct that the research I presented suggests that biking isn’t as good as running (with its jarring impacts) or weight training (with its targeted strengthening of muscles) for bone health. But that doesn’t mean that biking, along with just about any form of exercise, can’t play a role in maintaining bone strength. I’d certainly rather that he spend an hour a day biking (which he enjoys) than grudgingly shift to doing leg weights (which he doesn’t enjoy) a few times a week.

For most people, bone strength is just one of the factors to be considered in designing an exercise program. Unless you’re at a high risk of osteopenia, I’m hoping the information in this column will help you make subtle tweaks in your exercise program, rather than a radical overhaul.

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  1. Eileen Herbert
    May 22nd, 2009 at 19:56 | #1

    May 07 – kicked, accidentally , by 75 yr old swimmer in warm-up -fracture of mid segment of L ring finger . Nov 08- pain in ball of left foot while walking , no history of trauma – fracture of 3rd L metatarsal- 2+ months out of the pool. Any kind of impact like running or jumping is out of the question . Bone density numbers were decent both times but bone density does not equal bone strength.
    Actonel , Vit D ,Calcium , Magnesium . Any other suggestions ?

  2. alex
    May 23rd, 2009 at 21:51 | #2

    That’s a tough one, Eileen — and I’m certainly not a medical doctor, so my advice should be taken with caution! My sense from my interview with Heather McKay (director of the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility in Vancouver) is that weight training would be your best bet. In fact, her research group has found that resistance training is MORE effective than the “impact” activities like walking and jumping for increasing bone health in older adults. Weight training can be done in a way that produces very low impact, but can target pretty much the whole body (depending on your choice of exercises). And it doesn’t have to be the stereotypical image of doing bench presses in a gym full of bodybuilders — you can create a simple but effective program using inexpensive (and easily stashed away) free weights at home.

  3. Karina
    May 26th, 2009 at 07:34 | #3

    Eileen, you are doing a great job with the supplements. Other things to consider, that may or may not apply to you:
    -Normal estrogen (i.e., no deficiency) is important for bone health
    -Wearing high heel shoes increases forefoot pressure (load shifting from the heel region towards the central and medial forefoot)and could contribute to a metatarsal fracture
    -Genetics (a history of fractures in the family will increase your risk)
    -Two fractures within a year and a half could just be bad luck :(

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