The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

A Reader Asks About Osteoporosis and Walking Lightly

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One good question launched many answers. The post Walk Lightly - Shock Absorption for Happier Joints explained a light step prevents joint, soft tissue, and plantar fasciitis pain. In the comments, Carol asked if there were, "a connection between walking lightly and oesteopenia?" This is interesting, since osteopenia is lower than normal bone density, lack of enough pulling or tension on the bones reduces bone density, and a certain amount of vibration may help bones. The simple answer seems to be, that walking lightly should not be enough to reduce bone density, by itself.

Walking, running, and jumping lightly is good exercise to load the bones, while being better for your ankles, knees, hips, and spine than jarring with each step. The post Why So Many Aerobics Injuries? cited news accounts attributing joint pain and injury to high impact activities, with examples of popular aerobics personalities of the 1980s who now say they are too crippled to exercise. Their injuries were avoidable, but not by avoiding impact exercises. Impact activities can be done safely by not stomping down hard. Even repeated jumps from a height can be done with soft landings. Good athletes run, jump, and box with far less impact than most people walk, and have good strong bones. Exercise, done right, is crucial for your bones - Exercise is More Important Than Calcium Supplements for Bones.

When muscles pull your bones during walking, running, and other exercise, the pulling increases bone density. Adding external weight loads bones further. That is a major way weight-bearing and weight lifting exercise increases bone density. The effect of muscles contracting to provide good shock absorption when moving also pulls on the bones,which should be good. The post Forensic Anthropology and Bone Density looked at influencing the shape of our bones by how we move.

The reader went on to comment, "I have always been very light on my feet, and now in my 50s I have found out I have low bone density. I have a cousin who shakes the house when she walks who has been told that she doesn't ever have to worry about her bone mass." Walking lightly alone should not have caused the osteopenia. Questions would be, what other exercise the reader does, and what things might be decreasing her bone density? For the cousin, "shaking the house" by itself may not be enough bone stimulus that anyone could tell her that she "doesn't ever have to worry." Has the cousin taken a bone density test and was found to be high (for whatever reason)? Then you can say there is lowered risk of fracture. Is this cousin is very heavy, which helps load bone? Does this cousin do regular exercise to increase her bone density? It is not likely to be a valid prediction that someone never has to worry about bone density just because they walk badly.

The reader went on to ask, "I went to a bones for life class and was taught to do heel bouncing to stimulate bone growth. i.e. dropping repeatedly from toes onto heels while standing in proper alignment. Do you agree with that exercise?" I did a few searches on the bones for life class and found that the class uses many exercises, not bouncing on the heels alone. Bouncing for a few minutes would not be enough to undo sedentary life style, and the various things people do that actively take away from bone density. You need to do all the other exercises. How much the shock wave of the impact may additionally load or stimulate the bone is still an open question.

There are studies looking at effects of vibration and tapping on bone building. Mechanisms have been studied from the effect on cat bones of their purring, to various machines that bang or vibrate. Some advertising for vibration machines goes as far as making claims that they will increase bone density. So far, none have been found to have as much bone building effect as muscular activity (exercise). Too much occupational vibration, like jack-hammer, helicopter and similar environments produces joint pain, injuries to the spine, eyes, ear, nervous, and other systems. That was one of the topics I was looking into when I did aviation medicine research, explained in Indiana Jones Rocket Sled. A news article that came out on last year's fitness fad of vibration plates promising weight loss and fitness building, mentioned a few of the problems with too much vibration, and, ironically had an accompanying photograph showing severely hyperlordotic (overarched) lower spine positioning by a person listed as the trainer. Hyperlordotic spine posture, by itself, damages the facet joints of the spine over time. It seems safe to say that the jolting of the vertebral joints against each other in this overly arched position would only be worsened by vibration. The post Prevent Back Surgery shows examples of overarched lower spine and why it causes so many injuries in fitness.

It would be interesting to know if low levels of vibration, through tap dancing, Flamenco dancing, pogo stick jumping, and similar activities, would change bone compared to the same amount of exercise without the impact. Some studies claim that swimmers or cyclists do not have as high bone density as runners, while others do not find that when they control for the direct muscle work applied to the area. There are even studies showing that Tai Chi, a most mild form movement with almost no foot-falls at all, can increase bone density in older people, just from the movement.

Along with walking or running, and weight lifting to build bone density, and using your muscles to stop stomping which can hurt the joints, you can prevent bone loss by avoiding things that reduce bone density:

  • Smoking
  • Drugs that are known to greatly increase risk of bone fracture: stomach acid drugs and steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, regular use of SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac and Paxil. Numerous medications used to treat different cancers may produce osteopenia (bone shortage) and osteoporosis in long-term cancer survivors. See Stomach Acid Drugs Increase Osteoporosis and Hip Fractures
  • Lack of sunlight. Calcium cannot be absorbed or do its job without enough sunlight
  • High consumption of meat and dairy products
  • Drinking alcohol too often
  • Lack of fruit and vegetables, and vegetable calcium sources
  • Eating wheat and related grains by people with celiac

Osteoporosis and osteopenia cause major problems for men, not only women. More on this to come. Move, walk, lift weights, stand on your hands, and jump for fun, exercise, and bone building. You do not need to ooze around on tiptoe to avoid impact injuries. Jump and dance and stamp your feet for fun, without jarring your joints and retinas loose. Have fun.

Carol ended her comment to me with, "Thanks for your site - I've learned a lot about alignment, which has helped in many ways." Thank you Carol for writing so many helpful questions for our benefit.


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BonesExercise Photo by MoToMo

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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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