Exercise and Bone Health: "It's hugely important," says this expert

We talked on the phone with Bess Dawson-Hughes, the director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and a professor of medicine at Tufts, about what you can do to protect your bones. Here is what she had to say about exercise and bone health.

Q: Does exercise help bones?

A: It’s hugely important—both aerobic and strength training.

Walking or running—any exercise in an upright position—is more effective for bone than swimming. They’re all great exercises for muscle, but the ones that put a load on bones are better for the skeleton. Bicycling doesn’t count as weight-bearing, which is too bad, because it’s one of my favorites.


Q: What about exercises to improve balance, like tai chi?

A: It’s very effective at lowering the risk of falls. In one trial, elders who got balance training and then got coached to do it on their own at home had fewer falls over a one-year period.

And there’s a recent report in which they trained elders to multitask by telling them to walk this way, and then that way, while listening to music. The training had a favorable effect on falls.

Q: Why would multitasking matter?

A: What causes so many falls is that people get distracted. Let’s say an older woman is walking down the steps, and her husband is up at the top asking her a question. She tries to answer it, and she trips. The ability to multitask declines as we age, but you can improve it with training.

Q: Is exercise important for people who have osteoporosis?

A: Yes, but some exercises might be harmful for people at risk for a vertebral fracture. They should ask their physicians which exercises to do.


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