Getting in enough activity is something we all know we should strive for, but the type of exercise we choose can significantly affect our health. As we age, bone health becomes more vital.
Our bones provide us with a support structure and allow movement. They are responsible for brain, heart, and organ protection from injuries. Bones contain stored minerals including calcium and phosphorous, which are released into the body when they’re needed. Our bones also trap minerals like lead that are dangerous to our health.
Poor nutrition habits and a lack of exercise can reduce bone mass, making them weak, brittle and prone to breaks or fractures. Bone fractures are painful and can take a long time to heal, sometimes causing permanent damage.
It’s never too early or too late to start thinking about your bone health. Getting on the path toward building and maintaining healthy bones is something you can do at any time. One way you can significantly boost your bone density and the overall health of your bones is through exercise—specifically impact training.
What is impact training
Impact training is exercise that provides impact on the bones, causing them to adapt. This includes high-intensity resistance training and sprinting, otherwise known as impact weight-bearing training. The types of training that have been proven to help build and protect bones include:
- Resistance training with compound, multi-joint exercises such as squats and deadlifts.
- Lifting heavy weights that are 85% to 90% of your 1 repetition maximum.
- Sprint training
The benefits of impact training
Although many people may think those with joint issues or low bone density should avoid these types of exercises due to their stressful nature, research says differently. In fact, it is precisely the stress on the bones that cause bones to adapt, becoming stronger.
A May 2021 study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research Plus shows that impact training is both safe and effective for bone health. The study was performed on male sprinters aged 40 to 85 years who were followed over the course of 10 years. Those who kept up regular strength training and sprinting regimens, including impact training, maintained and improved the strength of their bones.
Instead of age reducing their bone health, the effects of training actually improved it. For the participants in the study who reduced their training, the opposite was true—their bone density was reduced over 10 years.
The researchers concluded that these specific training types that include impact and intensity can directly cause bones to either maintain or even improve density, counteracting the effects of aging on bones.
Several other studies prove the same, including in women who already have low bone mineral density and have been diagnosed with osteopenia and osteoporosis. Both conditions mean the bones are weak and prone to breakage.
High-intensity resistance and impact training has been shown to outdo low-intensity training to improve the conditions, increasing bone strength with no adverse effects.
How to get started with impact training
One of the significant factors that lead to weak bones is less to do with the aging process and more to do with decreases in physical activity as you age, especially when it comes to intense training.
It is vital to find a balance between too much intense activity and enough to protect your bones, especially if you are just getting started. You want to avoid injuries that make the situation worse or cause you to be laid up unable to participate in any exercise. Be sure to wear supportive footwear and to warm up properly, keeping hydrated as you go.
The first step is to get clearance from your doctor for exercise, particularly high-intensity exercise. If you have the all-clear, you can start with the following program:
- Once a week, perform sprints on flat ground. Be sure to warm up with a light jog and active stretching and mobility work first. Try a few practice runs at a slower speed, and then attempt two to three short sprints of 5 to 10 seconds.
- Twice per week, perform a full-body resistance training This can be with bodyweight if you are brand new to weight-bearing exercise. Try bodyweight squats, pushups against the wall on the floor on our knees, if necessary, and lunges. You can even practice sitting and standing in a chair.
- Over the weeks, try adding more resistance with dumbbells or barbells. Seek the guidance of a certified personal trainer or exercise specialist for best results to ensure your form is correct, and you are challenging yourself adequately.
- Once you are comfortable, you can add more sprints to your workouts or add another day of sprinting to your routine.
Other tips for maintaining healthy bones
While exercise is crucial for bone health, other factors come into play.
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet: Both are vital for bone health. Try a supplement if you have a hard time getting enough through food. Consume foods like whole eggs, ocean fish, liver, almonds, broccoli, kale, and milk fortified with vitamin D.
- Watch your body weight: Being underweight can negatively affect your bone health, and undereating means you likely are not getting enough minerals.
- Avoid smoking: Cigarette smoking increases your risk of osteoporosis because it blocks calcium absorption. Women who smoke tend to experience menopause earlier than those that don’t, also contributing to weaker bones due to declining estrogen levels.
- Limit alcohol: Drinking a lot of alcohol is also connected to weaker bones.
- Speak to your doctor: If you are concerned about your bone health, speak to your doctor about steps you can take. You may require supplements or medications to counteract bone loss.