Exercise For Building Better Bones

Body Mechanics Tips

Exercise is an important part of the overall strategy for improving the health of your bones. The optimal exercise regimen for preventing osteoporosis has yet to be established, but these guidelines are based on our current state of knowledge. We do know that exercise works best when you have adequate levels of estrogen, calcium intake and vitamin D.

Even though we think of bones as solid, rocklike structures, they’re actually a living tissue that is constantly changing. Peak bone mass usually occurs by the age of 25 and then slowly declines. Bone loss accelerates during the first several years following menopause. The foods we eat, the amount of physical activity we perform and various lifestyle and genetic factors contribute to bone health.

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, check with your physician before starting any exercise program.

Posture and Body Mechanics

How we work, play, sit and move can determine the stress placed on our spine. Viewed from the side, the spine is shaped like an S-curve. It is ten times stronger when these natural curves are maintained. Good posture and body mechanics can alleviate/prevent back pain and protect your spine against fracture.


  • When standing, an imaginary vertical line should connect your ear, shoulder & hip.
  • Don’t lock your knees. Stand with feet straight ahead or slightly turned out.
  • Don’t let your stomach muscles sag.
  • Maintain a normal (not flat or exaggerated) curve in your low back.


  • Do NOT sit or stay in the same position for prolonged periods of time.
  • Sit in a firm, straight-back chair with your hips all the way back.
  • Use a lumbar roll to maintain the natural curve in your low back if comfortable.
  • Avoid sticking your neck out and keep screen at eye level.
  • To get out of a chair, slide forward without slouching and then stand up.

Moving & Lifting

  • Keep a flat back.
  • Use your legs when you lift even the lightest object. Keep a wide base of support. Squat down, keeping your chest upright. Blow out when you lift/stand up.
  • Avoid forward bending. If you must lean forward, bend where your legs meet your trunk, NOT at your waist.
  • When lifting, hold objects close to you and avoid twisting.

It requires lots of practice before new ways of performing daily tasks become a habit. But the payoff is long-term back health. Start off with a few changes. Make an effort to be aware of your movements and protect the spine.


Much of our day is spent sitting or bending. This can tighten some muscles and put stress on the spine. As part of an overall program of stretching, develop good flexibility in your back, hamstrings (back thigh), hip flexors (front thigh) and pectoral (chest) muscles. Avoid forward bending exercises which can put stress on the bones and discs of the spine. Stretch the muscles to a point of tension, not pain, and hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds at least 3 -5 times daily or as directed by your physical therapist.

Strength Training

Strength training is probably one of the most important things you can do to build or maintain strong bones. To get the best results, you should consider

  • working on a variety of muscle groups for 8-10 repetitions, 3 times/week
  • gradually increasing resistance as your muscles become stronger, instead of cruising through a workout that has become easy
  • focusing on increasing bone density in the spine, by doing standing and upper body exercises
  • having an exercise professional design a well-balanced strength program for you involving major muscle groups
  • learning proper exercises for the upper/lower back and abdominals to give you strength for good posture

Weightbearing Exercise

Each time we step, jump, run or balance on part of our body, the impact causes compressive force on the bone, which encourages bone building. That’s why it’s important to participate in regular weight-bearing exercise that is appropriate for your fitness level and current bone health. For example: very fast walking, uphill walking, stair-stepping, jump rope or jumping activities, high-impact aerobics, jogging, dancing, soccer, tennis, squash and basketball can all be good exercise choices for bone-building. High impact forces and a variety of movement patterns cause a stronger bone response. However, your strength, heart health and bone integrity must be adequate for safe exercise. Your doctor or physical therapist can tell you what’s safe and effective for you.

Strength training exercises done standing (or when balancing your weight on a leg or hand) are also an important part of a weightbearing exercise program.


Good levels of strength and flexibility guarantee that you’ll keep your balance more easily. To help prevent falls, activities that require balance are also good to practice. Many forms of dance, yoga and martial arts training (including tai chi) can promote good balance.

A simple exercise: Practice standing on one foot for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg. When you can do this easily, try it with your eyes closed or while moving the "air leg" forward-and-back or out-and-in. There are all kinds of balance games and activities you can do. Just remember to progress gradually and provide for something to grab if you need a balance check.

As an adolescent or young adult, exercise can boost your bone mass. After the mid-thirties, success means keeping the bone you have (or slowing the rate of bone loss). Whatever your age, exercise is good medicine for your body and your bones.


Headshot of Marci A. Goolsby, MD
Marci A. Goolsby, MD

Medical Director, Women's Sports Medicine Center, Hospital for Special Surgery
Assistant Attending Physician, Hospital for Special Surgery
Assistant Professor, Weill Cornell Medical College


In-person and virtual
physician appointments

Urgent Ortho Care

Same-day in-person or virtual appointments

Related Content