271119 Introduction to bone health by Danny M. O’Dell MA., CSCS

271119 Introduction to bone health by Danny M. O’Dell MA., CSCS

The health of your bones has a direct bearing on your ability to function in today’s busy lifestyle. You may find yourself wondering how you got to the point of not being able to carry in the groceries or even go for a walk. Without strong skeletal support, your body is unable to keep up to the demands of daily life. This topic will provide information for developing, and then maintaining your bones.

Osteoporosis and exercise[1]

If you are a woman, know a woman or care about the woman in your life this disease may be present or lurking insidiously in the background of each of your lives. In the United States Osteoporosis[2] is becoming epidemic especially in white woman over the age of 50. According to the definition stated in the NSCA Essentials of Personal Training this condition is a result ‘of long term net demineralization of the bone.’[3] Again quoting from this book it is a ‘degenerative disease of the skeletal system condition resulting in a progressive loss of bone proteins and minerals.’[4]

Osteoporosis is estimated to affect upwards of 13-18% of the female population and those with osteopenia[5] affecting another 37-50% of the females in our Country. Either of these conditions puts a woman at risk of suffering compression fractures in the spinal column and adds to the chances of breaking other bones in the body. But there is research that reveals exercise, bone density and fracture risk have a positive interrelationship.

The stress placed on the skeletal structure has a direct affect on the density of the bones. Stronger muscles make stronger bones, thereby leading to the conclusion that exercise is one of the keys to denser bones. According to the leading experts in the field of exercise and osteoporosis, specific sites on the body respond differently to the physical loads imposed by physical activity.

In the case of women the most positive effect for hip bone strength is weighted squats. Yes I can hear many of you saying squats are bad for your knees, your back, your whatever…blah, blah, blah. But if you want a strong body with strong bones then squats are the main exercise of choice.

Each exercise must be done correctly. If you don’t know how to do a specific movement then find a knowledgeable strength coach who will teach you the proper form.

Intensity of the load is a critical factor in your exercise program-soup cans won’t cut it here. Neither will light little dumbbells, you have to go heavy (within your capability) in order to get strong bones. Make note of the fact that well planned exercise training programs prevented or reversed an average of nearly 2% bone loss per year.

These programs were established with training guidelines leading to temporary muscle fatigue and with loads that stimulated bone growth. Added to the high load factor were the low repetitions and a built in long recovery time or rest period between sets of exercises.

High impact exercises, such as skipping a rope, and jumping are alternate means of effectively building strong bones, but only after a multiple months of low impact training.

Remodeling your bones will take up to six months before measurable and noticeable changes take place; just keep at it. Dense bones lower the risks of sustaining a fracture. But it you are susceptible to falling due to a lack of balance then this issue must be addressed.

Some simple but effective balance exercises are those of walking on your toes or heels for a distance that is comfortable to do.[6]  Do these next to a railing or a wall. If you begin to fall you’ll have something to catch yourself on. Other good exercises are standing on one foot, or squatting on one leg if you are strong enough to do so. It may be better to do the one leg squats onto a sturdy chair that is pushed up against a wall so it doesn’t move as you sit on it. Or next to a counter top so you’ve got a place to grab onto if you can’t do them.

Additional balance exercises that have proven beneficial are those conducted standing on one foot while swinging your arms in the normal walking pattern or with your eyes closed. Make sure that you are near a wall or a sturdy piece of furniture in the event you begin to fall you will be able to catch yourself.


The path to increased bone mineral density lies in a strength program that is basic in nature and features high loads that stimulate the muscular growth in the hips, back, and arms. The program should be safe for all except those with severe osteoporosis. Before starting out on a new exercise program always consult with your doctor first.

[1] Osteoprosis: A Trainers Guide to Healthier Bones, O’Dell, D. M. 2006

[2] Bone disease: a disease occurring among women after the menopause in which the bones become very porous, break easily, and heal slowly. Defined as a bone mineral density below -2.5 standard deviation of the young adult mean (The essentials of strength training and conditioning. 2000)

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Defined as a bone density between -1 and -2.5 standard deviation of the young adult mean.

[6] Elaine Mansfield, February 2006 Strength and Conditioning Journal

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