Why a Little Extra Weight Is Good for Your Bones

Weight-Bearing Exercise on the Beach
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To protect against osteoporosis, one of your first lines of defense should be to fortify your bones with an optimal matrix of vitamins and minerals. However, bone density is not exclusively defined by the amount of calcium that can be absorbed from your regimen of dietary supplements. The strength of your bones is also determined by how you use them.

In the 19th century, a German anatomist and surgeon by the name of Julius Wolff developed a medical concept regarding bone density that has stood the test of time. Wolff's Law states that bones adapt to the stresses that are placed upon them. If you lead a primarily sedentary life, whether sitting most of the day at a desk or behind the wheel of a car, your bones will gradually grow weaker. However, through consistent weight bearing exercise, your body will slowly remodel your bones to better handle the impact of your physical activity, resulting in improved bone density and resistance to fracture. This beneficial load on your bones can be produced by external weights, such as dumbbells or weight machines in the gym, or your own body weight, as occurs while jogging or practicing yoga. In addition, engaging in these activities typically have the added benefit of improving your posture and balance, which can help protect you against debilitating falls.

Vertebrae on DEXA Scan Image
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Over 100 years of scientific research has overwhelmingly confirmed the assertions of Wolff's Law, as weight bearing exercise has been shown to stimulate faster growth of new bone cells in response to the pushes and pulls of muscles and tendons. At the same time, recent advancements in DEXA scan technology have found certain forms of weight bearing exercise are better than others. High impact physical activities that involve jumping or running result in higher bone mineral density than those with slower, more fluid movements, such as swimming. However, this does not mean that everyone with bone density issues should seek out high intensity activities.

The ideal form of weight bearing exercise depends heavily on the progression of your individual condition. If you are an active person, and your bone scans show slight indications of osteopenia in certain areas, taking up running or tennis might be the perfect physical activity to strengthen your bones. On the other hand, if you already have suffered significant bone density loss, beginning with swimming or tai chi is a safer choice until your bones are able to sustain more impactful exercise.



Jennifer recently retired from her career as a Certified Manual Physical Therapist to spend more time with her family. When she isn't writing about natural medicine, she enjoys practicing yoga, rock climbing, and running marathons.

Email Jennifer at [email protected].


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