An article just came out last month in the NY Times on “The
Best Exercises for Healthy Bones”. It was interesting to
say the least. The writer suggested that hopping was the
best exercise to build bone but gave no context or
guidelines to incorporate hopping or jumping safely into
an exercise program! I decided to pull together the best
information from the top researchers in the field of bone
and exercise. I like to look at the groups who have been
doing this kind of research for a long time. I was at a bone
symposium last week and was able to ask Beth Lambright,
the Oregon State University exercise teacher of all the
main studies during the past 15 years if jumping rope or
mini-trampolines build bone. The answer was “No, you
need 4-8x body weight impact to stimulate bone. For
children this means jumping off a 24″ box and for adults
this means jumping off an 8″ step. They progress from 4″
to 6″ to 8” very slowly and prepare the knees and hips
with step-ups, heel raises, squats, lunges and faux jumps
before jumping off the steps. So what else will give us
1. Walking does not build bone and should not be
considered an osteoporosis exercise. (However, walking is
great for your heart if you keep up a good pace.)
Palombaro KM. “Effects of walking-only interventions on
bone mineral density at various skeletal sites: a metaanalysis.”
J Geriatr Phys Ther. 2005;28(3):102-7.
2. Weighted vests with lunges, squats, step ups, side
lunges and small jumps 3 x per week builds bone in the
hip according to Christine Snow’s bone research lab at
Oregon State University.
(Long-term Exercise Using Weighted Vests Prevents Hip
Bone Loss in Postmenopausal Women by Christine M.
Snow, Janet M. Shaw, Kerri M. Winters, and Kara A. Witzke
Journal of Gerontology: 2000, Vol. 55A, No. 9, M489-
M491) They are continuing their long-term studies and the
latest one should be published next month!
3. Sinaki has the best long-term research on exercise for
building bone and fracture prevention in the spine
(Sinaki, M., et al. 1986.”Relationship between bone
mineral density of spine and strength of back extensors in
healthy postmenopausal women.” Mayo Clinic
Proceedings, 61 (2), 116-22.)
(Sinaki, M., et al. 1996. “Can strong back extensors
prevent vertebral fractures in women with osteoporosis?”
Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 71 (10), 951-56.)
(Sinaki, M, et al. 2002. “Stronger back muscles reduce the
incidence of vertebral fractures: A prospective 10 year
follow-up of postmenopausal women.” Bone, 30 (6), 836-
(Sinaki, M”The role of physical activity in bone health: a
new hypothesis to reduce risk of vertebral fracture.” Phys
Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2007 Aug;18(3):593- 608)
4. Loren Fishman has some ongoing research on Yoga for
osteoporosis and is getting some increases in BMD with
(Yoga for Osteoporosis: A Pilot Study by Loren M.
Fishman, MD. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation. Vol. 25,
No. 3, pp. 244-250: 2009)
Main Points for Exercising Your Bones:
- Hip Bone Building: Jumping is best. (If your T- score is below a -3.0 do not jump!) Prepare for jumping by doing forward and side lunges, squats, step ups, heel raises and standing balance exercises. Consider using a weighted vest up to 10% of your body weight. Mini-trampolines are a good warm-up or for cardiovascular work but they do not build bone.
- Spine Bone Building: Prone (face down) Back Extension Exercises are best.
- Walking briskly on uneven terrain up and down hills is great for your heart but should not be considered a bone building exercise.
- Yoga and Pilates in general are not considered bone building exercises YET! They may be effective programs to increase variety and pleasure with exercise and are a good body awareness fracture prevention and preparation for the bone loading exercises necessary to stimulate bone formation!