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Is Walking Good for Bone Health?

Rear view shot of the highlighted joints in a runner's foot

The three primary pillars of bone health have always been a calcium-rich diet, vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise. Walking has always been considered a great option for a weight-bearing exercise. 

An analysis of several walking studies[1] reports that walking as a “singular exercise” has no significant effects 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 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, that can reduce fall risk and lower the chances of breaking a bone.

Walking may also 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[2]. Walking volume (more is better) and pace (faster is better) and stride (longer is better) were associated with reductions in hip fracture risk of 40-60%.

Keep walking!

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.

[1] Ma, D., Wu, L. He, Z. “Effects of walking on the preservation of bone mineral density in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Menopause. 2013 Nov;20(11):1216-26.

[1] Feskanich D1, Willett W, Colditz G.Walking and leisure-time activity and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2002 Nov 13;288(18):2300-6.

Published: 11/25/13; Revised: 02/18/2019

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