What kind of exercise is best for maintaining bone density?

 First, Some Background Information... In the mature skeleton, bone is subjected to a dynamic process of breakdown and renewal termed remodeling. If breakdown exceeds renewal, loss of bone density occurs. Conversely, if something stimulates remodeling to favor renewal over breakdown, that process is termed osteogenic, and bone density will increase. When force is applied to a bone, the bone bends or is temporarily deformed, which is referred to as strain. For an activity to be osteogenic, it must produce enough force to cause strain upon the bone.

A marked decrease in physical activity, such as bedrest or an extremely sedentary lifestyle, will result in a profound decline in bone mass. However, improvements in bone mass resulting from increased activity depend upon many factors, including age, hormonal status, nutrition, and the specific exercise prescription.

What Exercise is Best for Maintaining or Enhancing Bone Density?Studies of women who participate in weight-bearing activities show that they have higher bone mass than sedentary counterparts. Such has not been the case for non weight-bearing activities, such as swimming and cycling. Therefore, activities such as walking, jogging, and weight lifting are essential for maintaining optimal bone density.

Furthermore, the response of the bone to mechanical loads (i.e., exercise) is immediate and specific to the bone under load. Therefore, although activities involving locomotion of the body are particularly beneficial to the leg and hip bones, optimal loads to induce osteogenic changes in the upper body can best be accomplished through a weight training program. Such a program needs to be of sufficient intensity to cause strain upon the bones. A program needs to be developed that will stress all the bones of the body, and the weight loads chosen for each exercise should be heavy enough so that the repetition range to failure is between 3-12 reps/set. Of course, other weight and repetition ranges are appropriate for other goals, such as increases in muscular strength and endurance. It is recommended that any person who desires to enhance bone density through weight training receive professional advice from a qualified expert before embarking on such a program.

General Guidelines to Prevent Osteoporotic Fractures: Factors that influence fracture risk include skeletal fragility, frequency and severity of falls, and tissue mass surrounding the skeleton. Therefore, an exercise program to prevent osteoporotic fractures should attempt to address three issues: 1) Preserve or enhance bone density; 2) Prevent falls by improving balance; and 3) Increase overall muscle mass.