Active living builds and keeps bone and joint health

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation

Physical activity not only makes bones stronger, but can also improve balance and coordination. It helps maintain healthy muscles, which may prevent falls that could lead to fractures. And, if you’re recovering from surgery, physical activity under your doctor’s or physiotherapist’s care helps you to regain mobility and strength. Need some motivation? Consider:

  • Physical activity is critical to the developing bones of children and teens.
  • Bone mass is determined by the type and intensity of exercise, the age at which it began, and the number of years spent in training.
  • For adults peak bone mass is reached around the mid-thirties, at which time, physical activity is vital to conserving bone.
  • Being physically active is a lifelong commitment, beginning in childhood and maintained into our senior years.

Simple activities can maintain bone and joint health

No matter what your age, being active, maintaining an appropriate body weight, and building strength are the foundation for healthy living in general – and that includes your bones and joints.

It’s no surprise that excess weight, with all of that force on your knees, hips and ankles, can be tough on your joints. In fact, there is a definite correlation between obesity and rates of arthritis. So losing weight will literally take a load off.

That’s a challenge for many people. So what can you do to help keep those pounds off, support your bones and joints and prevent orthopaedic injuries and disorders? The good news is that is really takes nothing special, says Dr. Stewart Wright, orthopaedic surgeon and chair of the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation’s Medical & Scientific Review Committee.

The best exercises for building and maintaining strong, health bones are weight-bearing activities such as walking, biking (outdoors or stationary), jogging, and stair-climbing – normal day-to-day activities. “Just 30 minutes of walking a day will make a huge difference in terms of your bone quality and overall cardiovascular health,” says Dr. Wright.

Try working a bit of exercise into your everyday routine:

  • Walk to school or work.
  • Park further away from the building or store.
  • Take the stairs.
  • Walk your dog.
  • Participate in a moderate to vigorous activity that keeps you moving – hiking, skating, swimming, golf, tennis or baseball.
  • For muscle strengthening, light weights for your legs or arms are enough to help.

“There’s an important caution to remember,” says Dr. Wright, “if you already have a painful knee, for example, and are trying to lose weight. Choose non-impact activities – like biking or swimming – that aren’t as hard on the joints.”

Best exercises for your healthy bones

The best exercises for building and maintaining strong, healthy bones are weight-bearing or load-bearing activities. Pick activities that appeal to you, and try to keep a variety that fall under the following categories:

  • Endurance – activity for long distances or periods of time, like swimming, hiking, cycling and running.
  • Flexibility – activity that includes bending and stretching, particularly helpful to keep joints limber, like yoga, pilates, and tai chi.
  • Strength and balance – activities that require resistance, like lifting weights or working with an exercise band.

Activities for all ages should be a combination of vigorous and moderate:

  • Vigorous activity makes you breathe harder and your heart pump faster.
  • Moderate activity keeps you moving.

Good bone and joint health is, as is cardiac and respiratory health, essential to overall health. Your bones, joints and muscles are what make it possible to do the most routine of tasks – walk to the mailbox, drive a car, climb the stairs. When they’re not well-fueled and well-maintained, they start to breakdown and we see the effects in the development of painful disorders and diseases.

Active living not only builds your bone and joint health, but also lowers your risk of:

  • Being overweight
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Bone loss
  • Falls and injuries
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Colon cancer

More on keeping your bones and joints healthy is available online at