Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workouts breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific workout. You might have heard many times that working out is great for your bones and that weighted activities help maintain bone mass. This month we’ll be taking a look at why working out helps build stronger bones.
How Working Out Helps Build Stronger Bones: The Basics
I’m going to spare you the scientific jargon (for the most part). You can look up any medical, nursing, personal training, or nutritional scholarly text book and see that the research is in overwhelming support that those who are more physically active have stronger bone mass than their non-active counterparts. But I’m going to help you understand why. Let’s start out with some basics.
Types Of Bone Cells
These bone cells are the guys responsible for bone production. All of our bones in the body are formed and designed by these little guys. It’s something called a bone matrix: bone lining cells. Have you ever seen a house being build with just the wood foundation? No dry wall, no paint, no roofing to cover the house. These cells would be the framework for which the house becomes that beautiful home. They form the structure of which cells become calcified into bone.
Osteocytes are mature osteoblasts. These cells are responsible for the maintanence of bone. It’s theorized that these cells respond to the physical changes placed upon bones and tell other cells whether or not that bone cells should be working to maintain, weaken, or strengthen themselves.
These types of cells help to reabsorb minerals for bone modeling or reformation (i.e. to help maintain or make your bones stronger). These cells help make up collagen fibers (wound proteins) that eventually calcify and make your bones.
Bone modeling is the process of bone growth and formation that takes place from birth to about thirty years of age – I say about because the age at which bone modeling stops is different for every single person. This is when the majority of bone density formation occurs including the growth of length and diameter of bones.
This is the process of bone maintenance. This process starts at about thirty years of age and is governed by many different factors including diet, hormones, organ function (or dysfunction), environment, and physical activity.
How Exercise Helps Build Stronger Bones
So how does exercise fit into helping to make bones stronger? It’s pretty simple actually. Bones are similar to that of muscles: in order for muscles to grow and become stronger they need to have a certain threshold of force applied to them. Bone works exactly the same way. Osteocytes sense physical demands on bones. This signals the cells to help maintain bone density.
Now what type of exercise helps to build the strongest bones?
According to the Institute Of Bone Health the type of physical activity best suited for maintaining bone density is high impact exercises such as plyometrics or sprinting. Weight training also fits into the category of helping to build stronger bones.
How it works: increased force such as striking the ground during sprints or the force of hitting other objects helps to trigger cells that strong bones are necessary to maintain your structure as well as prevent stress fractures. On the other side of things, strength training helps to build stronger muscles. Bigger and stronger muscles can also trigger increased bone density. The muscles require a stronger tendon to attach to the bone which in turn adds more force/pressure to the bone, also triggering bones to help maintain their bone density.
What types of exercises aren’t good for building stronger bones?
Swimming and bicycling: while it’s by all means a great workout in itself, it’s not the best exercise for maintaining bone density. These exercises don’t generate a lot of force don’t trigger the same amount of threshold that other types of exercises do.
Workout Tips For Building Stronger Bones:
Hit the weights – or hit the ground. Anything that helps use gravity to generate force helps keep your bones strong and healthy especially as you age.
To get the best bang for your buck, working out in your adolescent years and in your twenties when the bones are still growing will help add more bone mass then you would as if you didn’t work out. This will give you more bone density in your aging years. However, the key is to keep active. The less you use your body the less inclined you are to keep your bone density as you age.
1. N.a. “Introduction To Bone Biology: All About Our Bones.” International Osteoporosis Foundation. 2015. Web. 2 July 2016.
2. N.a. “Exercise For Your Bone Health.” National Institute of Health: Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. May 2015. Web. 2 July 2016.