Walking is a weight bearing exercise that builds and maintains strong bones and is an excellent exercise. Not only does it improve your bone health, but it also increases your muscle strength, coordination, and balance which in turn helps to prevent falls and related fractures, and improve your overall health. And what’s more, it is accessible to everyone.
How does walking make your bones stronger?
Bone is living tissue and becomes stronger with exercise.
Walking involves your feet and legs supporting your weight so that your bones have to work harder and this makes them stronger.
What happens if your bones lose strength?
Loss of bone strength can lead to a disorder called osteoporosis where your bones become very fragile and are more likely to break or fracture.
Older adults with osteoporosis are most vulnerable to bone breaks and fractures in their hip, wrist and spine. One in three women and one in five men will have a fracture at some point after age 50. Recent studies have found that walking can substantially reduce hip fracture risk in both men and women.
When do you need to focus on strengthening your bones?
It’s important to focus on strengthening your bones at every stage of your life to ensure good bone health. All through your life, your body continually removes old bone and replaces it with fresh bone, known as remodelling.
During your key bone building years from childhood, adolescence and early adulthood up to mid-20s your skeleton is growing and by exercising regularly you will achieve greater peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) than if you don’t.
For most people, bone mass peaks around the age of 35. Up until this time all the bone that is removed is replaced, but after you reach your peak bone mass, less bone is replaced, and you will gradually lose bone. You can prevent bone loss with regular exercise, such as walking.
If you have osteoporosis or fragile bones, regular brisk walking can help to keep your bones strong and reduce the risk of a fracture in the future.
How should you walk and how often?
You should walk briskly on a regular basis. The government's recommended target is to walk at least five times a week for about 30 minutes. However, if you have more time and you have additional energy you can increase this and strengthen your bones further.
It’s also recommended that you add a few jolts to your walk to stimulate the bone-strengthening process in your body. For example, you could run up ten steps and this would provide ten jolts on the way up and ten jolts on the way down. A steep hill is also good alternative to incorporate into your walk. You could also try to include jumps in your walk, such as walking for five minutes, then jumping every 30 seconds for the next ten minutes, then walk for another five minutes, and then repeat the jumps.
You could also look to pick up your pace for part of your walk and reduce it back down, then repeat for the duration of your walk.
Side-stepping or walking backwards can also create new stress to your bones, so long as you do it safely! You could try incorporating a pattern of alternative walking every three to five minutes. For example: 30 seconds each walking sideways one way then the other, then walk backwards for 30 seconds, 30 seconds on the balls of your feet and 30 seconds on your heels.
You could also add more load to your bones, such as ankle weights, hand weights, or a weighted vest, to stress them so they build more cells for you.
You may want to try walking with poles as they can make you feel more secure as well as activating your spinal muscles.
By simply taking regular brisk walks, you can improve your bone density and reduce your risk of hip fractures. Unfortunately, however, one in three people over 65, often in good health, will have a fall this year.
If you have had a fall you may benefit from seeing one of our chartered physiotherapists who will be able to advise on products and exercises to help you recover from your fall and stay healthy in the future. Or our experienced consultant orthopaedic surgeons are on hand if you would like to book an appointment regarding osteoporosis.