As we age, our bones naturally become less dense. Even as
early as age 40, bones are no longer as strong as they once were. They have
begun to get thinner and weaker. Unchecked, this deterioration can be a
contributing factor in developing osteoporosis, which in turn increases the
risk of having a fracture.
Teréza Hough, CEO of the National Osteoporosis Foundation of
South Africa (NOFSA) explains.
Over the last 20 years or so, doctors and other healthcare
professionals have come to realise that one of the best ways to build and
maintain healthy bones is through exercise. This can be achieved by weight
bearing or impact exercises such as walking, running, playing tennis, stair
climbing, jumping, or dancing.
And while non-weight bearing exercises, such as cycling or
swimming, do not have the same loading effect on bones, but are excellent for
overall health and building muscle strength.
A regular, well-structured exercise regimen, in conjunction
with a well-balanced diet and other lifestyle measures, can help protect
against osteoporosis and related fractures, and can help in rehabilitation.
This is true for everyone, not just for those over 40.
Exercise builds bone
Think of your skeleton as being the foundation needed to
maintain a well-built house. Likewise, how long bones stay healthy depends on
how well they were made to begin with. Most people reach their peak bone mass
in their 20s.
This is when bones have achieved their maximal density and
strength. Childhood and adolescence are probably the most important times for
laying the foundation and making it as strong as possible, and you should
invest everything you can in the bone-bank.
During the growth spurt in puberty, exercise and diet are
probably most important. After peak bone mass is reached, bone density remains
stable during adulthood, and then begins to decline. The more bone you have put
into your bone bank, the more you have to lose!
Physicians once thought that reaching this peak depended
primarily on diet, including sufficient calcium intake, and exposure to
sunlight, which is necessary for production of vitamin D in the skin – vitamin
D is necessary for the absorption of calcium from food, for the healthy
functioning of bone tissue, and thus for maintaining bone strength.
Recent studies have however shown that in laying down the
bone foundation that will serve for a lifetime, exercise is just as important
From childhood to old age, exercise forms an important part
of our lives and benefits us all in different ways:
- Toddlers to teenagers – it will help build strong bones.
- Adults – it will help maintain their bones.
- Elderly – it will help prevent bone loss and falls.
In girls, the bone tissue accumulated during the ages of 11
to 13 approximately equals the amount lost during the 30 years following
Australia’s Prof Ego Seeman and colleagues have studied
female gymnasts, both young girls and middle-aged women, and found that not
only are pre-pubertal gymnasts likely to have a much better bone mineral
density. But in later life, women who had trained as gymnasts also had much
denser bones than non-gymnasts.
In another study, boys who did the most vigorous daily
activity had 9% more bone area (bigger
bones), and 12% more bone strength than less active boys.
The moral of the story: it is never too early or too late,
to begin the process of making your bones as strong as possible.
Key things to
- Move it or lose it! Bone mass and exercise are inextricably
- Invest in your bones. Children should get plenty of exercise
to help build their peak bone mass.
- Exercise, in addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle, can
help to maintain your bone density and slow the process that leads to
- By improving balance, strength, and agility, exercise helps
prevent falls that lead to fractures.
- Impact and weight bearing exercises are best –consider
skipping, jogging or weight training instead of swimming or cycling.
- Exercise can help with rehabilitation.
- It is never too late to start exercising, but consult your
doctor about what level and what type of exercise is best for you.