Exercises to increase bone density


woman resting in gym after workout

By Dr. Susan Brown, PhD

Exercise is one of the best ways to maintain and increase bone density and strength. But as you age, you may start to worry about injuries associated with high-intensity exercise and lifting. Or you may simply prefer a gentler, less stressful approach to workouts.

If either of those sounds familiar, I’ve got some good news. You can build bone density with gentle, low-impact exercise — and you’ve got a lot of options. Here are three of my favorites for you to consider:

1. Low-load, high-repetition strength training

New research shows that lifting low weights for multiple repetitions with the BODYPUMPTM program on a regular basis can significantly build bone density.

  • Each week, spend three visits doing one-hour of low-load strength-training.
  • During each session, complete 8 different weight-bearing exercises, such as squats, dead lifts, chest presses, bicep curls, and lunges.
  • Do each exercise with a low-load, usually only 20% of your one repetition maximum.
  • For each exercise, work up to 100 repetitions.
  • This means a total of 800 repetitions per session.
  • When the exercises become too easy, gradually increase the weight.

I’ve been doing this for several months now, and the program works well for me. The key is to develop a regular routine. It’s also important when performing weight-bearing exercises to make sure you are using the proper form.

You can find a class at your local Y or gym or talk to your doctor, physical therapist or local trainer about low-load, high-repetition strength training programs.

close up of hand weights

2. Walking with a weighted vest

A weighted vest is a vest with weights inside of it. The heaviness of the weights can vary from a few pounds to quite a lot. Worn like a regular vest around your torso, a weighted vest adds extra weight to every step you take, increasing the resistance of your walking workouts and stimulating hip and spine strength.

This exercise approach is particularly good for lightweight women who enjoy walking as a form of fitness. To get the maximum benefit, walk with a weighted vest on for about an hour at least three times a week. You’ll want to check in with your doctor, physical therapist or trainer about the specific amount of weight that will work best for you. However, wearing a weighted vest may be one way to add low-load strength training to a form of exercise you are already doing.

3. Yoga

Practicing yoga is another way to maintain and build bone strength. A number of recent studies show the positive effects of yoga on bone health. In addition to its physical benefits, yoga can also enhance our natural mind-body connections and help with relaxation and stress reduction.

Local instructors can offer great instruction and can modify exercises if you have a weak spine or low-bone density. If joining a new class is too intimidating, start by ordering a beginner’s yoga DVD or checking-out a video on YouTube. You may find you’re more comfortable exercising in the comfort of your own home.

Here’s the bottom line. For most women, nearly any type of regular exercise — as long as it’s not so intensive and causes injury — is good for maintaining and building bone density. The key is to pick an exercise program that will work with your life and not feel like a chore so you’ll want to stick with it. This will let you to develop a sustainable exercise practice that will help you to stay fit and strong for life.

Also, remember to always consult with your doctor before beginning any new type of exercise program to prevent bone loss. We all have specific strengths and limitations, and a good exercise program will take these into account.

Good luck getting started!

Watch Dr. Brown discuss exercise for bone density, the alkaline diet and more.

video screen grab of dr. brown

How to exercise as you age: 6 tips from an orthopedic surgeon.

Petersen BA, Hastings B, Gottschall JS. Low load, high repetition resistance training program increases bone mineral density in untrained adults. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2017;57:70-6. DOI: 10.23736/S0022-4707.16.05697-8

Last updated on 11/07/2019