The most effective exercises for improving bone density occur on land, not in the water. However, swimming and other water-based activities may have some bone-building effect, and provide plenty of other health perks as well. Along with exercise, choose bone-friendly foods containing plenty of calcium and vitamin D. You'll also help protect your bones by avoiding cigarettes and limiting alcohol to two drinks per day, according to MayoClinic.com.
Land Exercise and Bones
For maximum bone-building effects, an aerobic exercise must be weight bearing, meaning it forces the muscles and bones to work against gravity. This places impact on the bones while causing muscles to pull away from bone tissue, and your bones respond to the stress by increasing mineral density. Walking, running, dancing, step aerobics and even pushing a heavy lawn mower are weight-bearing activities, while riding a bicycle is not. Strength-training activities such as lifting weights or performing crunches and squats also place enough pressure on bones to help build density.
Water Exercise and Bones
In the water, you are less susceptible to the forces of gravity and therefore won't build bone density as well as with weight-bearing activities. However, there is still some benefit. A study published in "The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness" in 2008 revealed that post-menopausal women maintained or improved bone density over seven months with a tri-weekly water exercise program. In addition, an Italian study published in "Clinica Terapeutica" in 2009 showed that a blended program of both water and weight-bearing exercises helped maintain bone quality in women with low bone-mineral density.
Other Water-Exercise Benefits
Water exercise may not win the award for best bone building, but there are plenty of other benefits. The activity is easy on the joints, making it ideal for arthritis patients. Water activity also improves mood, and warm-water exercise may help ease depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also notes that swimming, along with other aerobic activities, can help prevent or improve diabetes and heart disease.
Whether you choose water or land-based aerobic exercise, fit the activity into your schedule at least 2 1/2 hours each week, which translates to 30 minutes, five days per week. For even stronger bones, also perform strength-training exercise two to three times weekly, allowing two days of rest before working the same muscles again. If you have a difficult time meeting these guidelines at first, don't push yourself -- stop if you become exhausted, and gradually increase intensity and duration. If you don't currently exercise or have any health concerns, see your doctor before starting a workout routine.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Weightbearing Exercise for Women and Girls
- The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: The Effect of a Water Exercise Program on Bone Density of Postmenopausal Women
- La Clinica Terapeutica: Effects of a Combined Weight-Bearing and Non-Weight-Bearing ( Warm Water) Exercise Program on Bone Mass and Quality in Postmenopausal Women with Low Bone-Mineral Density
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Benefits of Water-Based Exercise
- MayoClinic.com: Bone Health: Tips to Keep Your Bones Healthy
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- Photo Credit Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images