Exercise & Bone Health

Keeping our bodies healthy is an ongoing challenge and every minute it seems that new research reveals another approach to maintaining and improving our health.  A few basic facts have managed to stand the test of time, however, and one of these is the impact of exercise on maintaining our bone health.

Growing up as a child in the 80’s, “Got milk?” was the running dairy ad on television and everyone from my generation remembers the poster of a celebrity with a milk mustache holding a large glass of white cow milk.   Click here to read the Huffington Post’s article, “The 31 Best ‘Got Milk’ ads, Definitively Ranked.”  We were taught year after year in grade school, via the U.S. FDA food pyramid, about the importance of eating dairy products because they held calcium that was good for our bones and were served a carton of milk with every school lunch. At home, my mom warned me of the consequences (I would stay short forever!) of not getting enough calcium, and encouraged me to consume at least a gallon per week with meals.


When I was twelve years old, I noticed at a family reunion that my grandmother looked a lot shorter than I remembered her being a few years earlier.  Her shoulders had begun to round forward and she appeared to hunch over as she walked.  My mom explained to me that grandma had osteoporosis and that she didn’t get enough calcium growing up.  As a body conscious pre-teen, this scared the dickens out of me and I drank my milk daily like it was going out of style!

As a teenager, however, I learned in health class that exercise was also an important part of keeping your bones strong, along with adequate calcium intake (and we now know that vitamin D supplementation is essential too).  The type of exercise was never specified, and since Jane Fonda was all the rage then, I woke up every morning before school, donned my hot pink leg warmers and sweated to her latest low-impact workout played on my VCR and rode my stationary bicycle.

It wasn’t until years later, upon my entrance into nursing school, that I learned why exercise helped maintain strong bones and that the type of exercise did, in fact, matter.  It turns out that in order for your bones to maintain their strength, it is crucial for them to experience a moderate amount of physical stress on a regular basis.  Skeletal bone is like any other part of our bodies, it is in a constant state of flux, generating new cells while simultaneously tearing down old ones and weight-bearing exercises are necessary to maintain bone density and strength.  So in other words, while all types exercise may have positive effects on our health, in order to keep our bones strong and (hopefully) stave off osteoporosis, we must incorporate impact-producing types of exercise, such as walking, running, playing soccer, and jumping rope.  While cycling, water aerobics, swimming, and training machines such as ergometers, can be excellent for your cardiovascular health, they should not be your only form of exercise if you wish to keep your skeleton in top form. Click here to read about osteoporosis facts from the Mayo clinic.

Studies have shown that competitive cyclists have weaker bones, in spite of having good cardiovascular and muscular strength, more evidence that impact plays an important role in bone health.  Click here to read about cycling and bone health.  And just in case you may think this is only a problem on our planet, we now know that being in outer-space for prolonged periods of time can also diminish your bone density.  NASA’s astronaut, Scott Kelly, who recently returned to earth after 340 days in space where the lack of gravity prevented weight-bearing exercises (like running on a treadmill) from having the same effects on his bones, may be a recent example.  Previously it has been reported that other astronauts have experienced bone loss during extended periods in the cosmos, and while there is no definitive data yet on how the impact his year in has space affected Scott Kelly’s long-term health, it will be interesting to see in the future what changes occurred in his bone density and strength, compared to his identical twin, Mark Kelly, who remained on earth.  Click here to read about Scott Kelly’s return to earth and his health.

So for your next workout, remember to get out, pound the pavement and strengthen those bones!  Your body will thank you!


Author: Reformed Hippie Mom

I am a Registered Nurse, wife, mother to two beautiful daughters, writer, reader, & contemplative human.

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