Importance of weight-bearing exercise for good bone health

While only half of Brits exercise more than once a week according to Arthritis Research UK, a new study has found that committing to a long-term weight-bearing exercise routine can help increase bone mass in men and can prevent the development of osteoporosis.

Weight-bearing exercise is not just about pumping iron; it encompasses any exercise that makes your muscles overcome a resistant force and, as well as building muscle, it can improve body mechanics, increase flexibility, balance and co-ordination. It can also help protect your joints from incurring injury and muscle gain will mean you burn calories more effectively. However, it has been long believed that its main benefit is to help you to develop strong bones and a new study has proven the link.

Exercise and bone health

Published in the latest issue of the Bone journal, researchers at an American University have found that 12 months of resistance or jump training decreased levels of a protein made in the bone called sclerostin. This type of exercise also increased IGF-1, a hormone that is associated with bone growth. These two developments combined help to promote bone formation which in turn leads to increased bone density.

The University of Missouri researchers enrolled men aged between 25 to 60 with low bone mass. One group performed resistance exercises such as squats and lunges using free weights. The other group focused on jump exercises. After a year-long period, the levels of hormones and proteins in their bones were re-measured and levels of sclerostin, which can have a negative impact on the formation of bone, was greatly decreased.

"People may be physically active, and many times people know they need to exercise to prevent obesity, heart disease or diabetes," Dr Hinton, medical lead of the survey, explained. "However, you also really need to do specific exercises to protect your bone health." Cathy Speed commented “In adults, activities that include vertical impacts are recommended to promote bone health (running, jumping, power-walking, some dance regimens, racquet sports).”

Brits and exercise

This study has come at an opportune time; a leading UK arthritis research charity has recently published the results of a survey of 2,000 men and women and found that, despite knowing how important it is for their health, only 53% of us exercise more than once a week.

Reasons for our gym-dodging range from feeling too tired to believing that we don’t own the appropriate clothing, however, one of the most significant reasons is joint pain. Almost half of respondents had joint pain that had put them off doing regular exercise, yet it is proven to reduce pain and stiffness in the joints.

Dr Tom Margham, GP and Arthritis Research UK spokesperson, said: "Joint pain can limit a person’s ability to live their life to the full. I see many people who are troubled by joint pain, but few of them know how important exercise is for both managing and preventing joint pain. I personally have seen that a little bit of the right kind of exercise can make a big positive difference to joint pain."

For more on bone health, visit Cathy Speed's article on 'Assessing bone health in adults and children'.

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