Exercise to improve bone density.. all its cracked up to be?

Exercise to improve bone density.. all its cracked up to be?

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Naturally, our bodies go through an ageing process. As we get older, we lose some of the ability we had in our youth. Joints can stiffen and muscles can weaken.

However, one part of that process that isn’t so obvious at first is a loss of bone density. Our bones can become brittle and lose their strength as we age, meaning we are more susceptible to fractures. Did you know that a loss of bone density can start from as young as 50 years of age?

Luckily, at BJC Health Parramatta we have access to a DEXA machine – a tool that measures bone density. You can read one of Sarah’s previous blogs to learn more about that process here.

We know that over 2.2 million Australians have Osteoporosis, or a high risk of fracture, with 51% of women and 42% of men considered Osteopenic, or moderate risk of fracture.(https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics).

So in this blog, I want to answer the question “What can be done to combat the effects of poor bone health?”

The answer: Exercise!

Also read: Is Osteopenia reversible?

Regular physical activity plays an important role in maintaining and improving bone density. Not only does exercise increase the strength and capacity of our muscles, but the right kind of ongoing exercise can also create a lasting positive change in our bone health.

There are two types of exercise that are specific to improving bone strength: weight-bearing exercise, and resistance training.

  • Weight-bearing exercise is any physical activity that is done whilst standing on your own feet. Think walking, jogging, and playing sports such as tennis or netball, even dancing!

  • Resistance Training is the use of an external load or weight to apply stress on the bone to create adaptation. Lifting free weights, or using gym equipment, are the most common forms. They allow you to quickly improve in strength, and as you lift heavier weights, your bones become stronger!

Weight-bearing exercise, like walking, is by far the easiest way to start exercising for your bone health, but we’ll need to do something a little more vigorous to really see improvements. Recent research points to options like skipping, jogging and more plyometric style training as being most effective.

Resistance training, although difficult at first, is where the magic happens! By doing a structured exercise plan 2 to 3 times each week, consisting of big movements, like squats, lunges, and deadlifts. The program should also be progressive – that means you’re challenging yourself and improving every time you’re working out; not just doing the same load each session. 

One other style of training that can be neglected is balance. Although it doesn’t directly improve our bone health, it has shown that introducing balance into your exercise program can reduce your risk of falling by 50%! Next time you’re brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil, try standing on one leg and see how long you last – try to reach 30 seconds without any assistance; that’s a great place to start!

Now for a story to help show how it's possible to start working on your bone density.

Sheryl* is one of my older clients who presented to the clinic with Osteoporosis, and with her goal being to improve her bone strength as she had already experienced a few falls and had previously fractured her wrist.

Like many other people, Sheryl thought walking every day for 60 minutes would be enough physical activity to improve her bone density, but unfortunately things weren’t really improving.  After starting her with some simple home exercises, she felt herself getting stronger and more confident – she wanted to start pushing the boundaries of what she could achieve. She saw our in-clinic gym and thought our group classes were a great way to safely and effectively improve her bone health.

We introduced her to strength and balance training, incorporated some high impact exercise, such as skipping and jogging, and now, one year later, her bone density numbers have improved and she’s deadlifting over 50 kilos !! Plus, she hasn’t had a fall (or fracture) since joining us!

All of this can be pretty daunting at first, but have a read of one of my previous blogs to get a better idea on how you can get started.

If you have any questions, or want help improving your bone health, feel free to reach out to us – at BJC Health, we are committed to helping you achieve your goals.

 * Name changed to protect identity

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