As we age, our bones can become thin and brittle, a condition known as osteoporosis. There are a number of ways to help prevent this condition, which can lead to broken bones and a myriad of serious health problems sometimes associated with them. One of the easiest and most effective preventative strategies is simply to take regular walks.
“Weight-bearing exercise, in which your bones and muscles work against gravity, helps build and maintain bone mass,” according to Dr. Tamara D. Rosental, orthopedic surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. These are exercises in which the feet and legs bear your weight.
Walking just 20-30 minutes three times a week can make a big difference. Bone is a living tissue that responds to weight-bearing exercise by gradually becoming stronger and denser. It is constantly being broken down and reformed. When you suffer from osteoporosis, more bone is being broken down than is being formed.
A sedentary lifestyle leads to thin bones, and puts you at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis then puts you at a higher risk of fractures, which can be life threatening. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, an average of 24 percent of hip fracture patients aged 50 and over die in the year following their fracture.
Exercise is necessary to stimulate the cells to form and remodel new bone. A large well-known study of nurses showed that those who walked 4 hours per week had a 41 percent reduced risk of hip fractures, compared to those who walked less than an hour a week.
Walking puts your body weight on your hips and legs, so those are the bones being most strengthened. There are other benefits of walking as well – it’s good for your heart, weight loss and can improve your mood. Plus, it’s free and can be done just about anywhere. Start building your bones one step at a time!
How to get started:
1. Get ready – wear comfortable clothing and shoes meant for walking and seek out a safe walking route.
2. Start small – begin with a stroll that feels comfortable (perhaps 5-10 minutes) and gradually increase your time or distance each week.
3. Focus on posture – Keep your head lifted, tummy pulled in and shoulders relaxed. Swing your arms naturally. Avoid carrying hand weights since they put extra stress on your elbows and shoulders.
4. Breathe deeply – If you can’t talk or catch your breath while walking, slow down. In the beginning, forget about speed. Just get out there and walk!