In order to understand how movement, physical activity, and specific exercises improve bone density, it is important to understand the anatomy of bone.
Bone is tissue that responds to physical stress in the same way muscles and tendons respond to physical stress. Physical exercise, specifically strength training or resistance training exercise builds muscle, increases tendon strength, and improves bone density and tensile strength.
The hormone estrogen plays an important role in helping retain bone density by inhibiting the activity of osteoclasts.
In post-menopausal women, decreasing levels of estrogen speed up the rate of resorption .When the rate of resorption exceeds the rate of new bone deposits, osteoporosis sets in.
Weight bearing exercise (strength training) and an optimal nutritional protocol can improve bone density and lower the incidence of fractures in post-menopausal women.
All exercises are not created equal. In order to improve bone density, you must place stress on the bones in a way that gives you the most bang for your buck. Choose strength training exercises that impose demands on your spine, hips, knees, and shoulder joints.
Try to stay away from circuit training and machines that lock you in a specific seated position. Use free weights (dumbbells and barbells) and choose exercises that recruit a large number of muscle fibers. Here are a few of my favorites.
The Barbell back squat is an excellent exercise for improving strength and increasing bone density. The external load (barbell) is placed on the upper back and demands the entire body to work synergistically to perform the movement.
The back squat is a quadriceps-dominant, multi-joint exercise. Most of the demand is placed on the muscles in the front of the thigh. However they also target the glutes and hamstrings as primary movers.
Several other muscles, including the adductors, abductors, abdominals, erector spinae and calves act as synergists which assist in the primary movement of the squat.
The deadlifts primarily build strength and size in the glutes and hamstrings . The movement requires the entire body to recruit muscles to pick up a loaded bar from the floor and stand up with it. The deadlift is a multi-joint, hip-dominant exercise that primarily strengthens the muscles of the posterior chain. As a true multi-joint lift for the legs, the quadriceps are also involved, though not to the extent of the erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings. Due to the complexity of the exercise, many upper body muscles are also recruited as stabilizers and synergists. As a result, this exercise, like squatting, is a big ”bang for your buck” movement.
The standing barbell shoulder press recruits many muscles in the shoulder girdle and also strengthens the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder, such as trapezius, and posterior shoulder muscles. When the load gets heavier, muscles of the abdominals and lower back are recruited to help stabilize the bar as it is lifted overhead. I recommend alternating it with the standing dumbbell shoulder press with a parallel grip for some variation.
Another great exercise is the barbell front step-up. Step Ups are multi-joint unilateral exercises that strengthen the muscles of the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves and feet. They improve overall leg strength, increase joint (knee and hip) stability, and provide structural integrity to the muscles around the knee and hip joint. Mid height step ups focus on the vastus medialis, while allowing some gluteal work. The greater the height of the step, the more gluteal involvement in the exercise.
The exercises prescribed in this article are specific to improving bone density due to the placement of the load and the demands placed on the body to work as a cohesive unit to complete the movement.
In order to retain bone density, it’s important to have proper mineral balance. And in order to properly digest, process, and assimilate minerals or any other nutrients, it’s vital to improve gut health.
Healing the gut is a several-step approach. You must do the following:
There are several supplements that are effective in healing the gut. Supplements such as glutamine, probiotics, aloe vera, and digestive enzymes are all useful in calming inflammation, rebuilding the intestine, and improving digestion.
Calcium and calcium rich foods (milk, yogurt, cheese, sardines) must be incorporated into your diet in order to improve bone health. When taking calcium, it is required to also take the cofactors necessary to improve the absorption of calcium. Calcium absorption is assisted by vitamin D, Vitamin E, magnesium, and vitamin K.
Gardiner, NY Personal Trainer / Strength Coach
Bindu Nambiar is the head personal trainer and owner of Physiqology, a personal training business based in the town of Gardiner in the Hudson Valley, NY area. She specializes in injury rehab, strength training for sport, flexibility, and mobility training.
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