Bone density exercise research gives us mixed signals about the usefulness of walking. Some studies show that walking improves bone density; other studies show it offers little or no improvement.
How can this be? What could possibly explain the differences in the research results?
Well, maybe we need return to what we know about Osteoblast activity. (Remember your Osteoblasts are the bone cells that build new bone.)
Osteoblasts respond to increased stress on bones. It could be that for those who have not been exercising regularly, walking is good for increasing bone density. It offers increased stress on their bones. BUT for those who have been walking regularly, it may not such a good bone building exercise since they are not adding stress on their bones. To add new stress they need to add something to their walks.
Anyone can turn walking into a strong bone density exercise. All it takes is a bit of imagination and a few changes in your routine.
NOTE: This page also offers suggestions for those just starting a walking program. If you are new to walking, buying a good pedometer might be helpful. A pedometer will tell you how much you have walked AND it also can act as a motivating factor - those who use pedometers tend( to walk just a bit farther each day.
For those who have been doing this exercise for awhile there are some things you can do to make your walking a good bone density exercise by increasing the stress on your bones as you exercise.
Here are some suggestions:
First, take up 'race walking' and do this for all or part of your walk. Race walking adds extra stress on bones and so it is considered an excellent bone density exercise.
Second, another bone density exercise technique would be to add some 'modified jogging' to your walk. Instead of regular jogging strides; take 'baby steps' but use a jogging motion. This gives greater impact as your foot hits the ground. It increases the stress on your bones including your hip bone.
(Be sure to clear this with your health care provider. You do not want increase impact and create a stress fracture. You do want to get some medical advice about adding impact to a bone density exercise if you have Osteopenia. It will be too late to ask after a fracture happens.)
After you have been walking for 15 minutes, you could begin some modified jogging. Do it for 10 steps and then go back to walking again. After awhile go back to your 'baby step jogging' again.
You will feel some pressure in your hips. You may also feel it in your ankles and knees so be careful. If you have osteoarthritis or feel pain in your knees, stop this bone density exercise and go back to your regular walking.
If there are no problems, you can add "baby step jogging" to your walk on a regular basis. Do it for about 2 weeks. Then stop doing it for 2 weeks. Why? Remember our Osteoblasts respond to additional bone stress. By taking a rest from the technique and giving your bones a rest from this particular stress, you will provide 'additional stress' when you start it again.
A third technique to increase the bone density usefulness of walking is to add some weights. There are a number of companies that sell weighted vests. Most physicians do not advise walking with ankle weights. You could cause injury.
If you are not sure you want to spend the money of weights, you can make walking weights. Go to the hardware store and buy a 10 lb. bag of sand. Divide it into 10 equal parts and fill 10 small plastic bags with sand.
Be sure there is plenty of extra room for the sand to move around in the bag. You do not want the bag to pop open from stress while you are walking. Also do be sure to tie the tops!
Now if you want to stress the bones in your spine, you can add some weight to a back pack for your daily walk. Be sure the pack is tied securely so it will not bounce. Put in 1 package ( i lb.) to start. When that feels so easy that you do not even notice at the end of your walk, add another package so you are walking with 2 lbs of weight. You can keep adding packages of sand until you are walking with 8 pounds in your back pack.
Sand is an inexpensive way to add weight to your walking as a bone density exercise and because sand conforms to the shape of your body and has no sharp edges, there is no change of bruising. Just be sure to add weight s-l-o-w-l-y. Your body needs time to adjust to each new stress.
To read more go to Walking as a Bone Density Exercise