Sorry guys—bone loss affects you too. According to University of Missouri associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, Pamela S. Hinton, two million American men may have osteoporosis and another 12 million have low bone mass (also known as osteopenia).
Luckily, there are exercises that can help—specifically, exercise that involve large muscle contractions or forces of impact, both of which help bones grow and get stronger.
Best Moves for Bone Health
For a study published this month in the journal Bone, Hinton and her colleagues recruited apparently healthy men, ages 25 to 60, who did at least four hours of physical activity (mostly jogging, walking, or cycling) a week. Unbeknownst to these men, about a third tested positive for osteopenia of the hip or spine.
Those men were then split into two groups, and performed one of two exercise routines (in addition to continuing their regular workout patterns) for a full year:
- One group did resistance training twice a week, consisting of hip- and spine-focused exercises—squats, bent-over-row, modified dead lift, military press, lunges, and calf raises.
- The other group did plyometric training three times a week, which included various jumping exercises—squat jumps, forward hops, split-squat jumps, lateral box push-offs, bounding forward and laterally, box drill with rings, lateral hurdle jumps, zigzag hops, single-leg lateral hops, progressive depth jumps, and jumps off a box.
Overall, both groups saw improvements in total-body bone mass as well as bone mass of the lumbar spine. The resistance training group also saw improvements in bone mass of the hip, as well.
Your Plan of Action
If you're not already doing resistance training or plyometrics a few times a week, adding them to your routine can reverse bone loss, says Hinton—and it's never too early to start.
"People who are concerned about their bone health might choose either training program, depending on their preference," she says. “Individuals don’t typically have to know they have heart disease, high blood pressure or prediabetes to start exercising; they do it as prevention. Similarly, individuals don’t have to know they have osteoporosis to start lifting weights."
Both programs require very little equipment and can be done in one to two hours per week, she adds. They're also safe: Both groups reported minimal fatigue and discomfort throughout the study. (To prevent injury, they started with low reps and light intensity, working their way up to more challenging exercises over six weeks. If you're unsure of how to do this yourself, a personal trainer can help you develop a plan and track your progress.)
The bottom line: Everyone should be doing bone-strengthening exercises on a regular basis, whether it's for prevention or treatment, says Hinton. If you are at increased risk for osteoporosis—if you have a family history, for instance—you might ask your physician for a bone-density test, as well.