Bone health: How exercise helps strengthen bones

Teen skipping rope Teen skipping rope  

Bones respond to exercise just like muscles do. Being active can help make your child's bones healthy and strong.

How does exercise help the bones?

Exercise helps the bones in two ways.​

  • It helps to make muscles stronger, which improves co-ordination and balance. A child with good co-ordination and balance is less likely to fall or have fractures.
  • It helps build bone mass, which makes bones stronger. If a person does fall, their bones are better able to take the impact and less likely to fracture.

What types of exercise are good for bone health?

Most types of weight-bearing exercise are good for the bones. Weight-bearing exercise is any exercise in which the feet and legs carry the body's weight. Good examples of weight-bearing exercise include fast walking, jogging, running, skipping, hiking, climbing stairs and dancing.

Riding a bicycle and swimming are excellent forms of exercise for the heart, lungs and muscles, but they are not as helpful for the bones. This is because the bones support less weight when in a seated position (on a bicycle) or no weight (in water).

How much exercise can my child do if their bones are weak? 

Children with bone health problems such as osteoporosis should do at least 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise every day. Have your child do as much as they can without becoming very uncomfortable.

Are there any weight-bearing exercises that my child should avoid?

If your child has poor bone health, they should avoid activities and sports that carry a high risk of falls or injuries. Examples include skating, snowboarding or contact sports such as hockey or rugby.

How can I help my child learn how to do weight-bearing exercise safely?

Ask your child's doctor or nurse about what kind of activity your child should do. Your child might also need to see a physiotherapist for some specific exercises that are safe for their bones.

Key points

  • ​Weight-bearing exercise helps your child's bones to become stronger.
  • Examples of good weight-bearing exercises include fast walking, skipping, jogging, hiking or climbing stairs.
  • If a child has poor bone health, they should avoid activities that carry a high risk of falls or injuries such as skating, hockey or rugby.
  • Ask your child's doctor or nurse about what kind of activity your child should do and if they might need specific exercises. 
​Anne Murphy, RN
Clinical Research Nurse Co-ordinator​, Endocrinology
12/18/2013

​Sources

National Institute of Health (2013). Publications on bone health, osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta. 
College of Family Physicians of Canada (2011). Osteoporosis information for patients.
International Osteoporosis Foundation (2013). Bone health brochures.  




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