Well" maybe not.
I’m sure we’ve all asked this, at one time or another - hoping the answer would be yes. Because it would be great if walking were good for osteoporosis.
Walking is easy. It doesn’t require you to spend any money, or wear special clothes. Heck, you don’t even need to work up a sweat if you don’t feel like it. Plus oftentimes a walk means special time with a friend, pretty scenery, and breathing good, fresh air.
Walking has a lot of things going for it.
But unfortunately, strengthening your osteoporosis-weakened bones isn’t one of them.
Hold on, now, before you sigh and stop reading. I said walking won’t improve your bone density. If you’re already in osteoporosis, and looking to repair your bones, walking won’t do it.
But walking WILL prevent further bone thinning; a good program of walking will help maintain your present bone density. Which is crucial, when you’re fighting to keep those T-scores from dropping.
And, if you aren’t yet in osteoporosis but seem to be heading in that direction - attention, all of you peri-menopausal women out there who’ve just been blindsided by the negative numbers on your first DEXA scan - then walking will slow your bones’ degeneration.
Walking is also good for your heart and lungs, obviously. Anything that gets your body moving and increases your heart rate is a plus. It’s good for your muscles, too; it helps you maintain the flexibility you need to maintain your balance as you age.
And finally, walking is just about the easiest way to exercise. It’s the rare person who can’t find the time or space to take a walk - even a 10-minute one. Preferably several times a day.
So keep on walking, and feel good about it. If you can, walk briskly. The faster and harder those feet hit the pavement, the better it is for your bones. Bones respond to pressure by building more bone. While jumping rope, jogging, and team sports like basketball are ideal bone-builders, a more realistic approach for us older folks is simply walking as fast as you can.
When you think about swimming and bicycling - how hard they make you breathe, how sore they can make your muscles - you’d assume they’d be good for building bone, too. Alas, not so. Because your bones are supported, by bicycle seat or water (not battling gravity, as they are when you’re on your feet) these sports are NOT good for restoring bone loss. (One exception: riding your bike while standing up on the pedals, rather than sitting on the seat, is a good weight-bearing exercise.) But like walking, cycling and swimming are so good in so many other ways that they’re worth pursuing.
So, which exercise actually CAN rebuild bones? Weight-bearing exercise, which includes weight-lifting, and resistance training (e.g., working with those thick rubber bands). Please read our post on weight-bearing exercise; it’ll tell you all you need to know.
Finally, back to walking. There’s actually one kind of walking that qualifies as a weight-bearing exercise, and can restore strength to porous bones: stair climbing. Whether you’re on a stair climber at the gym, or simply stomping up and down the stairs at work or in your home, your bones are getting a good workout.
Bottom line: Walk for its aerobic benefit, and to maintain bone density. To build bone, the following are your best bets:
-doing resistance training with bands;
-taking an aerobics/step class, or a similarly vigorous class (tap dance, etc.);
-playing a sport that involves running (tennis, soccer, etc.).
If none of those floats your boat, well, then walk. The faster and harder the better.
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.