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Exercise for bones

Being physically active and doing exercise helps to keep bones strong and healthy throughout life. That’s because your bones are living tissues that get stronger when you use them.

As a child, exercise plays an important part in making our bones bigger and stronger; but as we get older, we start to lose bone strength.

That’s why keeping up with exercise as you age is important. It strengthens your muscles and keeps your bones strong - making them less likely to break by maintaining bone strength.

Exercise that's good for your bones

Bones stay strong if you give them work to do.

For exercise to be most effective at keeping bones strong, you need to combine:

  • weight-bearing exercise with impact
  • muscle strengthening exercise

Variety is good for bones, which you can achieve with different movements, directions and speeds - in an activity like dancing for example. Short bursts of activity may be best, such as running followed by a jog, or jogging followed by a walk.

Weight-bearing exercise with 'impact'

You are weight bearing when you are standing, with the weight of your whole body pulling down on your skeleton.

Weight bearing exercise with impact involves being on your feet and adding an additional force or jolt through your skeleton. This could be anything from walking to star jumps.

You can get weight bearing exercise with impact by taking part in some physical activity, sports or by doing specific exercises. The level of impact varies depending on the activity.


What is low, moderate and high impact exercise?

Lower impact Moderate impact High impact
Walks Highland dancing Basketball
Brisk walking Jogging or running Volleyball
Marching Team and racket sports Track events
Stair climbing Skipping and hopping Star jumps
Gentle heel drops Low level jumping Tuck jumps
Stamping Vigorous heel drops and stamping High level jumps


Muscle-strengthening exercise

When your muscles pull on your bones it gives your bones work to do. Your bones respond by renewing themselves and maintaining or improving their strength.

As your muscles get stronger, they pull harder, meaning your bones are more likely to become stronger.

To strengthen your muscles, you need to move them against some resistance. Increasing muscle resistance can be done by adding a load for the muscles to work against, such as:

  • a weight in your hand
  • using an elastic muscle resistance band
  • using your body weight during a press up.

As your muscles get stronger and you find the movements easier, you can gradually increase the intensity of the resistance by increasing the weight of what you lift.

This is known as progressive resistance training and research studies have shown that this is likely to be the best type of muscle-strengthening exercise for bone strength.


How often do you need to exercise to help your bone and muscle strength?

Weight-bearing exercise with impact:

 Click here for our Short films on How to build up exercise for your bones and a new Exercising safely film

Exercise levels appropriate for your health and mobility
People without osteoporosis, and most people with osteoporosis About 50 moderate impacts on most days. This could be jumping, skipping, jogging or hopping.
If you have spinal fractures or are unable to do moderate exercise 20 minutes of lower impact exercise on most days
If you're not physically strong or unable to do regular exercise Aim to avoid prolonged sitting. Stand up for a few minutes every hour.


Muscle-strengthening exercise:

  • Exercise two to three days each week, on non-consecutive days.
  • Aim for 20 to 30 minutes, working on exercises that target legs, arms and your spine.
  • Work gradually with resistance bands and weights - the most you can lift eight to 12 times.

Build up to three sets of each exercise

Click here for our Short films on How to build up exercise for your bones and a new Exercising safely film

Remember - Any exercise you do for your bone health should be in addition to the exercise you do for your general health, as recommended by the government.


Exercising if you have osteoporosis

Exercise or keeping moving is important for bone health and osteoporosis - whatever your age or wellness and whether you have broken bones in the past or not.

Being physically active and exercising helps you in so many ways and is very unlikely to cause a broken bone.


Find out more about exercise and physical activity for osteoporosis.

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