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How Does Physical Exercise Affect Bone Structure?

By Danielle Hill

Exercise is one of the key lifestyle changes you can make to improve the health of your bones. Regular bouts of low-impact strength training can improve your bone density and reduce the risk of fractures. Given the relationship between exercise and bone health, it's no surprise that doctors often recommend exercise to treat or prevent ailments related to the bones, such as osteoporosis.

Benefits to Bone Structure

During exercise, the pull of muscles against your bones actually promotes their growth. The tension created from the pull of the muscle triggers the body to increase the bone's density. The bone density of young adults may increase, through exercise, by up to 8 percent in one year, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Especially before the ages of 25 to 30, regular exercise can strongly affect bone development, resulting in a denser and stronger overall structure. Even after your formative years have passed, regular exercise can continue to have the same positive effect, improving bone density and strength.

Exercise Tips

Weight-bearing exercises, in which you use your muscles against gravity, are the most effective at improving bone structure. In addition to weightlifting, these exercises may include jogging, hiking, aerobics or dancing, all of which require you to move and hold your body against gravity. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends, on average, about 30 minutes of physical activity most days. Before beginning a new exercise routine, consult with your doctor. Factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or heart conditions may determine your own optimal exercise regimen.


Individuals with osteoporosis can greatly benefit from regular exercise, as the improved bone density greatly reduces the risk of fractures. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, older women who exercise for four hours per week can reduce their risk of hip fracture by more than 40 percent. As a secondary benefit, exercise improves flexibility, coordination and balance, reducing the risk of falls and injuries. Kyphosis, or a hunched back, a common ailment among those with osteoporosis, can even improve through specific exercise. Consult with your primary health care provider and a specialist in bone health and fitness to find the ideal exercise routine for your circumstances.

Additional Considerations

In addition to exercise, you can improve bone health by consuming calcium and vitamin D in the quantities recommended for your age group, weight and gender. Avoiding cigarettes and excessive alcohol consumption may also contribute to stronger bones. If you're uncertain about your bone structure and health, inquire about a bone mineral density test. While increasing your exercise usually improves bone health, in some cases of extreme athleticism too much exercise can actually worsen bone structure as well as overall wellness. If your fitness routine involves long, daily sessions of high-intensity sports and you regularly diet, or you exercise despite illness, or exercise to the point that you miss periods, your bones may actually lose mass. It's especially important for athletes to take plenty of calcium and vitamin D to ensure that their bones have the "raw materials" for building mass and improving density.

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