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Exercise choices for better bone and joint health

Exercise doesn’t just benefit your heart and your muscles. It’s also important for your bones and joints.

In addition to increasing muscle strength, physical activity stimulates bone formation. It also improves posture and co-ordination, as well as balance. That helps prevent falls that can cause fractures and other injuries.

Although physical condition and abilities vary widely between women, everyone can do some type of exercise, says Sonia Bibershtein, a physiotherapist with the Multidisciplinary Osteoporosis Program at Women’s College Hospital.

“The type of activity you choose and the intensity will depend on your personal preferences, your health and your fitness level, but everyone can exercise,” she says.

150 minutes per week

To gain health benefits from exercise, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend getting a total of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.

“The guidelines also recommend two muscle strengthening sessions per week,” Bibershtein says. “Muscle strength is very important to bone and joint health.”

Muscle strengthening activities include:

  • using weight machines
  • using free weights
  • using exercise bands
  • doing exercises such as push-ups, leg raises and lunges that use body weight for resistance

Building bone strength

Women usually lose bone mass in the first few years after menopause. For that reason, many perimenopausal and postmenopausal women are concerned about bone health.

“To build bone strength, you’ll need to do higher-impact exercise,” Bibershtein explains. “These are activities that work against gravity to put a load on the bones.”

High-impact exercises include:

  • aerobics
  • running or jogging
  • dance
  • jumping rope
  • racquet sports such as tennis or squash

However, high-impact exercises aren’t appropriate for everyone. It’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare practitioner before starting a new exercise routine.

Joint-friendly choices

For women with joint problems, Bibershtein recommends avoiding high-impact exercise, and choosing low-impact activities instead.

Great low-impact choices include:

  • aquafit
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • using an elliptical machine

Finding the right routine

If you want to begin a new exercise routine, Bibershtein recommends choosing something you can stick with.

“When choosing an activity, remember that you’re more likely to stick with something you enjoy,” she says. She advises women to think about what they like: whether they prefer to exercise in a group or on their own, if they would rather exercise at home or at a gym, and if they want a scheduled activity like a class or something more flexible.

If you’re looking for ideas, your local community centre is a good place to start, Bibershtein says. See what programs and activities are offered. If you prefer a women-only setting, you might want to try a gym that’s just for women, or a gym that offers women-only hours and classes.

If you want to do things independently, technology can lend a hand.

“There are plenty of great apps out there that can help, and gadgets like pedometers and activity trackers can help you stay motivated,” Bibershtein says. “The important thing is to choose an activity you can stick with, and to get those 150 minutes of exercise each week.”

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 13, 2014

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