An analysis of several walking studies reports that walking as a “singular exercise” has no significant effect on bone density at the lumbar spine in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. The researchers did note that there were “significant and positive effects” seen in the bone density of the femoral neck of the femur (hip bone) with walking programs that lasted more than 6 months.
The positive effects of walking
It is important to keep in the mind the difference between bone density values and osteoporosis and an associated increased risk of fracture. Since bone density changes very slowly, it would be difficult to demonstrate any increase in a short period of time.
However, activities such as walking, Tai Chi and yoga can have positive effects on muscle strength and balance, which by reducing fall risk should clearly be beneficial in lowering fracture risk.
In addition to having favorable effects on factors that increase fall risk, walking may slow age-related decline in bone density and may influence factors that preserve bone strength (e.g., micro architecture). Some of the best observational data on the benefit of walking to reduce hip fracture risk come from the Nurses’ Health Study. Walking volume (more is better) and pace (faster is better) were associated with reductions in hip fracture risk of 40-60%.
Walking is a good weight-bearing exercise to maintain general health, cardiac health as well as bone health. The benefits gained in muscle strength and balance can reduce the risk of falls, a common cause of fractures.