Walking and Osteoporosis

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Walking is one form of weight bearing exercise, which is important for bone health. But walking for osteoporosis isn’t your only way to get this exercise type.
Disclaimer: If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Well Guide contain information from peer-reviewed research, medical societies and governmental agencies; however, these articles are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Tips to Increase the Bone Benefits of Walking

There are several things you can do to make walking more interesting and more beneficial for bone health. The below suggestions won’t only make your walking routine more effective, but also more challenging and entertaining!

  • Walk at a faster pace. Vary the speed at which you walk. This will increase your heart rate and work your leg muscles more than when you walk at a leisurely pace.
  • Suggestion: Walk at your normal walking pace for 1 minute, then walk fast for 1 minute. Repeat this cycle for 10-15 rounds.
  • Find a hilly path or stairs. Navigating inclines and declines strengthen the muscles in your legs and hips. You will also find that your heart rate will increase as you challenge the large muscle groups in your lower body.
  • Suggestion: Find a staircase or a hill that you feel comfortable on. Walk briskly up the stairs/hill. Walk slowly on the way down. Repeat this 10-15 times.
  • Walk on uneven surfaces or in diagonal patterns. By walking on uneven surfaces or walking diagonally you can create increased work for your muscles, which can have more of an impact on muscle and bones.
  • Suggestion: Go for a 30-60 minute hike or try walking down a meandering path in the woods or in a park with a friend. For a bonus challenge: carry a weighted backpack to add a little extra resistance and work. But remember: safety first! Only try these progressions if you feel comfortable and safe walking without them.
  • Add body-weight exercises. Adding intermittent squats, lunges, or hops to your walk can work muscle strength into your walking routine.
  • Suggestion: Walk at your own pace and stop to do 5-10 squats every 1 minute.

What Makes Exercise Beneficial for Bone Health?

We think of exercise as a way to lose weight and build muscle, but our bones are getting a workout, too. Medical experts suggest two main categories of exercise for people with osteoporosis: resistance and weight-bearing (Porter, 2021). Each of these types supports your bones in different ways.

It’s essential that you get both types of exercise to maintain or improve your bone health.

What Is Weight-Bearing Exercise?

A weight-bearing exercise is any exercise during which you need to support your own body weight. Walking is considered a weight-bearing exercise since your bones need to hold up the weight of your body while you move. Hiking and dancing are also weight-bearing exercises, as are everyday movements such as climbing the stairs.

Other popular means of exercising, such as cycling and swimming are not considered weight-bearing exercises since either a bike or water is holding up your weight. These exercises are valuable aerobic exercises for cardiovascular fitness, as well as for unweighting painful and swollen joints, but may not be the best choice for those looking to increase or maintain bone mass through their fitness routine (Porter, 2021).

If you’re trying to add a weight-bearing exercise to your fitness routine, you have plenty of choices, including:

  • Dancing
  • Elliptical
  • Gardening
  • Hiking
  • Jogging
  • Jumping Rope
  • Running
  • Stair Climbing
  • Tennis
  • Tai Chi
  • Walking

Is Walking for Osteoporosis Enough?

Walking should be a part of your fitness plan to prevent or control osteoporosis, but it isn’t adequate by itself. The ideal fitness routine for bone health includes resistance training, balance work, and weight-bearing exercise (Porter, 2021). If you add only walking to your fitness routine, you can slow or prevent age-related bone loss (Benedetti, 2018). It’s valuable, but walking is just one tool when you need an arsenal to keep your bones strong. 

The Bottom Line

Walking is an effective, low-impact, weight-bearing exercise that is beneficial for those with osteoporosis. When performed in conjunction with resistance exercises, walking can promote bone growth. At the end of the day, no matter which combination of exercises you choose, the most effective routine is the one you’ll stick with. 

Always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. Your doctor understands your past history and current fitness level and will give guidance on what routine is safest and most effective for you.

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References

  1. Benedetti MG, Furlini G, Zati A, Letizia Mauro G. The effectiveness of physical exercise on bone density in osteoporotic patients. BioMed Res Int. 2018;2018:4840531. doi: 10.1155/2018/4840531
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Bone health: Tips to keep your bones healthy. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Published March 6, 2021. Accessed April 7, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/walking-for-muscle-and-bone-health/art-20457588.
  3. Porter J, Varacallo M. Osteoporosis. StatPearls Publishing; 2021. Accessed April 27, 2022. ​​https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441901/.
  4. Middlesex Health. Tweak your walking routine for muscle and bone health. Published October 8, 2021. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://middlesexhealth.org/learning-center/articles/tweak-your-walking-routine-for-muscle-and-bone-health.