Exercise for Bone Health: Part Three, DO's and DON'Ts

Health Professional

Here are a list of helpful DO's and DON'Ts recommended by Dr. Michael Hewitt, research director for exercise science and exercise physiology at Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Ariz., for those exercising for their bone health:

DO consult with a doctor before beginning any new exercise program. In particular, you may want to ask the physician verify that your blood pressure and overall heart health is adequate for the type of activity you wish to pursue.

On the other hand, DON'T be so fearful of any movement that you neglect to work out at all. Exercise is crucial strengthening your bones - studies have shown it can even build bone mass in postmenopausal women who are not taking hormones or other drugs to combat osteoporosis. Just as important, regular movement is essential to maintaining a level of balance and muscle mass that will help prevent a dangerous fall in the first place. There are numerous exercises that can be done at any age - from tai chi to simple workouts with hand or leg weights.

DO vary your workouts. Not only is cross-training a great way to get in shape, but changing your routine regularly can limit the risk of injury from overusing a particular joint or muscle. It's especially vital to incorporate four different types of exercise into your regimen: cardio, strength training, flexibility and balance or agility practice.

DON'T try anything that could be dangerous for your level of bone health. For example, sit-ups or crunches can cause compression fractures in the spine for those with low bone mass, and an abdominal machine may be safer for some. Wall squats may be a good alternative to the leg press for those concerned about their hips. Avoid moves that are jarring, require twisting your back or involve the risk of a bad fall.

DO get out of the gym, as much as feasible. While exercise machines are great in terms of convenience, hiking might be a better overall workout - complete with the balance practice - than the stair stepper. Instead of rowing on a machine, try paddling a canoe when weather permits, or bicycling on a real bicycle rather than on a recumbent machine.

DON'T discount the importance of weight bearing exercise for bone health. Bicycling and swimming, while good for the body in many other respects, do not strengthen bones as do exercises such as running, dancing, or other workouts in which you are forced to carry the weight of your own body.

DO ensure you are maintaining an adequate intake of calories and the necessary nutrients, especially calcium and Vitamin D, to compensate for what you deplete during your workouts.

DON'T count on your own weight to be sufficient resistance to keep your muscles strong, especially if you are slender. While walking is a terrific start, discuss with a trainer or other knowledgeable professional whether you should also incorporate hand weights or weight machines to your regimen.