FAQ’s About Weight Bearing Exercise

weight bearing exercise sheffield
Weight bearing exercise is very important for our bone health, yet there can be confusion about what it is, who it can help and exactly how it can help.

What counts as weight bearing exercise?

When you are doing a weight bearing exercise, your feet and legs are supporting your body weight. Some examples of weight bearing exercises are aerobics, team sports, dancing, running, walking or jumping and skipping. Cycling and swimming are not good weight bearing exercises, but if you are having issues with your joints that makes exercise difficult then these activities can be helpful as they do have some bone building benefits. We should all be getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, if you’re an exercise lover then include a balance of weight bearing exercise into your routine. If you’re an exercise hater – then try getting a skipping rope and skipping for 10 minutes each day, doing ten minutes of jumping jacks a day or just jumping up and down on the spot!

Why do I need to do weight bearing exercise?

To have strong healthy bones, you need to use them. As we age, our bone density can decrease and we become more at risk of diseases like osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is responsible for nearly all the hip fractures in elderly people! Weight bearing exercise is one of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis. Bone is a living tissue and bone mass generally starts to decrease as we age. If we think of bone mass as being like a bank, the more bone we put into our bank the more we have to lose when we become elderly and exercise becomes more difficult. When we do weight baring exercise, we stimulate cells called osteoblasts into synthesis and mineralisation of bone.

Who is the most at risk of low bone density?

Elderly women and women approaching menopause are the most at risk from osteoporosis. By age 20, women will have built 98% of the bone mass they need. This bone mass usually stays level until a few years before menopause. Five to seven years after menopause, women can lose one fifth of their bone. Although bone loss slows after menopause is out the way, women will continue to lose bone.

Does this mean men don’t have to worry about bone density?

Women’s bone mass peaks before men, and they start to lose bone before men. Most men will start to lose bone age 50, at a slower rate than women, but by 65-70, men and women lose bone at around the same rate. Osteoporosis is a hot topic for menopausal women, but as a man you should still be mindful about having strong and healthy bones.

When is the most important time of life to do weight baring exercise?

Our bone mass peaks at around age 30. We continue to grow bone mass as a teenager and young adult. When we were growing upwards, our parents made sure we got plenty of calcium to ensure healthy bones later in life, but just because your teen growth spurt is over, doesn’t mean you’ve stopped growing completely. Your body requires weight bearing exercise to help it build the bone density it needs for the rest of your life.

I’m past 30, my bone has reached its peak mass, is it too late for me to improve my bone density with weight baring exercise?

Young people who exercise can reach a higher peak of bone mass than people who do not. If you’re past 30 weight bearing exercise can help you maintain the bone density that you already have. So even if you did not have a high bone density to begin with, you can still slow down bone loss and maintain your bone mass. Even if you’re a 70 year old woman, it’s not too late. Weight bearing exercise is still recommended for people with low bone density. It can slow down osteoporosis and prevent your symptoms from getting worse.

What else can I do to slow down bone loss?

Diet and exercise go hand in hand, particularly when it comes to bone density. When your osteoblasts become stimulated and begin the process of building new bone, they need the materials on hand to do it. Your body needs calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K2 and magnesium for healthy bones. It’s not ideal to supplement all these vitamins and minerals with tablets and carry on as normal – although experts in the UK have recently stated that as we get vitamin D from the sun, Brits are not getting enough of it and everybody should take vitamin D supplements. Magnesium can also be difficult to come across in our diet due to poor soil quality. So you may also wish to supplement this from a tablet. You can absorb some magnesium through your skin, so you could use a cream or Epsom salts bath to do this.
To make sure you are getting enough nutrients to keep your bones healthy, you should aim to avoid processed food and pop. These can deplete calcium from your bones. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and keep your salt intake low. Smoking, excessive alcohol, and caffeine are also best avoided.
Weight bearing exercise is important for all of us, particularly for people over 50 or past menopause and those of us who are still growing and under 30. There are all sorts of ways you can fit weight bearing exercise into your life, whatever your fitness level. Getting enough of it may mean mixing up your routine if you’re very active, or adding small additions if you don’t like to exercise, or feel that you can’t do too much because of health reasons. Remember to wear springy supportive shoes when doing weight bearing exercise, so that your joints don’t get too hammered by the impact of the floor. Don’t forget how important diet is for your bone health. Above all, have fun exercising and enjoy feeling healthy. If you want some advice about what type of exercise could be suitable for you, tweet us @sphysiotherapy or send us a message on Facebook. If an injury or pain is holding you back from exercising, we can help you. Email info@sheffieldphysiotherapy.co.uk or phone 0114 268 6677 to book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists.

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The Author

Lewis Payne

Lewis graduated from The University of Nottingham in 2013 with a First Class Honours in Physiotherapy, worked as Sheffield F.C.’s first team Physiotherapist, and now runs a leading-edge private clinic in Sheffield. With over ten years of experience, he specialises in manual therapy, advanced technological treatments, and exercise-based approaches, focusing on spinal and joint conditions, sports injuries, and specifically complex spinal issues like disc pathology and scoliosis. Lewis leads in IDD Therapy, performing over 6000 treatments, offers MRI referrals and reviews, and employs a holistic treatment philosophy viewing the body as a Tensegrity structure. He excels in postural analysis, soft tissue release techniques, and prescribes biomechanical corrective exercises to enhance natural movement.