5 Exercises that increase bone strength

It is a fact of life that we lose bone and muscle strength as we age. But there are things you can do about this!  The drop in bone density is caused by falling levels of the female hormone oestrogen and it’s oestrogen that helps to protect bone strength.

Although your bone density decreases at the menopause, your risk of weak bones and therefore broken bones is low until you get much older. So exercising to strengthen your bones from your fifties onwards is really important.

Weight-bearing exercise

Research has shown you probably need to do high-impact exercise to make significant improvements to your bone density. You need to do weight-bearing workouts that stress bones and muscles more than everyday living does.

The best exercise for your bones is weight-bearing, where you to work against gravity – think of lifting a bag up from the floor.   Whilst you can do weight training with gym equipment such as kettle bells, resistance bands and machines that you push or pull, it is not necessary.  

Your own body weight can act as the resistance so walking, hiking, jogging, tennis, and dancing (or aerobic movement for example Zumba)  would all count.  

Remember that diet and sunlight (for vitamin D) are also important for bone strength.  Protein and foods rich in calcium help muscle repair and bone strength.  Protein is found in nuts, eggs and chicken.  Calcium is found in milk, yogurt, seafood and leafy green vegetables.

Home exercises

Here are five exercises that use your own body weight, that you can do at home.  The programme should take no more than 25 minutes. Do this once or twice a week, adding one or two of the other activities (from those mentioned above) if you are able.  

If you follow this exercise routine, start slowly and increase the effort gradually over time.  You can do this by adding to the duration of the exercise or by following the ‘make it harder’ tips.

If you are unsure about whether you can do these exercises because of an existing medical or health condition seek advice from your GP/physician.

Always warm up before exercise – 5 mins

Do this by walking, begin to jog on spot, reach up, reach down, reach to the side, take long steps forward.

Stair climbing – 3 mins

Find some stairs and start by walking up and down and increase your pace a little.  Try to be light on your feet both going up and coming down.  Make a note of how many steps you take going up and down in the 3 minutes. Try and increase the number of steps you do next time.  Take 15 second rests if you need to during the 3 minutes.

To make it harder: carry some weights, do it faster

Stand to sit and back to standing – 3 mins 

Use a high backed chair behind you and sit down and stand up for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds and repeat twice more.  Try not to sit right down, as you feel the edge of the chair use your legs like springs, to take you back up.

To make it harder: increase speed, increase time to 45 seconds with a 15 second recovery. 

Jumping Jacks – 3 mins

Start in a standing position with your feet under your hips. Jump both legs out whilst bringing the arms up over your head (clap overhead if you can) and return to your start position.  If this movement is too difficult just take one leg out to the side as you raise the arms and then alternate with the other leg.  Do this for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat twice.

To make it harder: increase speed, increase to 45 seconds duration

Table top  – 3 minutes

Move to a position on the floor on your hands and knees.  Take your right arm and left leg out away from the body, lifting them (no higher than your shoulder/hip level) if you are able.  If you are not able just slide the leg away from the body and leave the foot touching the floor and raise your arm (not above shoulder height).  Alternate with the other side.  Take rest periods if you need to.

High knees – 3 mins

Walk on the spot but lift up your knees higher than you would walking.  Do this for 30 seconds, increasing the pace if you are able. Rest for 30 seconds and repeat twice.

To make it harder: put your hand out in front of you and bringing your knee up to meet it (or get near it)

Cool down and stretch – 5 mins

Cooling down is important after exercise.  You can walk for a few minutes and then use a stretching routine.  You can read here about why stretching is important and there are links to ideas about which stretches to do.