Exercises that force one’s body to work against gravity are known as weight-bearing exercises. These types of exercises strengthen muscles and bones and improve posture and balance.
Human bone is a dynamic tissue that keeps absorbing calcium from the blood and at times gives away its calcium when needed for other bodily functions. As people age, bones tend to get porous due to an increased loss of calcium from the bones. This increases the risk of back pains, arthritis, and fractures. Fortunately, bones have a special quality. Bone responds to being pitched against gravity. It strengthens when it must consistently bear weight against gravity.
The exercises that force the body to work against gravity are called weight-bearing exercises. These exercises strengthen bones and muscles and improve balance and posture. These exercises work directly on the leg bones, hips, and lower spine to slow age-associated mineral loss. Weight-bearing exercises are good for everyone. However, they are especially recommended for
- elderly individuals to maintain stronger bones;
- people with poor bone health or vitamin D deficiency to reduce the risk of fractures;
- rehabilitation after injury or in case of diseases that cause poor bone and muscle health; and
- post-surgical rehabilitation.
Examples of weight-bearing exercises
- High-impact weight-bearing exercises: These exercises force a person’s body to work against gravity. They include skipping, jumping robes, aerobics, Zumba, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis, and dancing.
- Low-impact weight-bearing exercises: If suffering from knee pain or back problems, low-impact weight-bearing exercises can help one stay fit and flexible. These include low-impact aerobics (less jumping, more upper body movements), brisk walking, and using elliptical training machines or stair-step machines to work out.
- Resistance exercises: This is lifting weights against gravity. These also help strengthen bones and muscles due to the load. People can do resistance training using dumbbells, kettlebells, or weights. Go for more repetition sets rather than heavier weights for stronger bones and muscles.
- Aerobic exercises: These are believed to improve heart health and weight loss. However, these may not be good options for strengthening bones. Nevertheless, these must also be a part of the exercise regime for the myriad benefits they provide.
Golden rules for exercises:
- Talk to the doctor before starting a fitness activity. This is especially important if there is a known heart condition or high blood pressure.
- Aim for 30 minutes of exercise daily.
- Use good quality footwear when exercising. The shoes must not be too tight, too loose, or too hard.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Take sips of water every 10 minutes.
- Some muscle soreness and discomfort after exercise is normal, but if it lasts beyond 48 hours or occurs with swollen joints, then people need to rest.
- Ask the doctor about the exercises best suited for the age or condition. For example, if suffering from back pain, knee pain, low bone mass, or osteoporosis, high-impact weight-bearing may not be safe.
- Consult a physiotherapist for the proper posture during exercises, a proper warm-up schedule, and the right weights recommended according to a person’s age.
- If suffering from osteoporosis, stay away from exercises that involve bending and twisting because this may stress the spine and increase the risk of spinal fractures. This includes exercises such as touching toes, sit-ups, or yoga poses. Golf, tennis, and bowling are also off-limits.
Medically Reviewed on 6/3/2021
United States. National Institutes of Health. National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Osteoporosis Exercise for Strong Bones.” <https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/exercise/exercise-your-bone-health>.