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What Is Weightbearing Exercise?

Weightbearing Exercise Is Necessary for Healthy Bones

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Updated January 29, 2014

Regular Exercise Improves Health

Regular exercise helps people with arthritis stay as strong and healthy as possible. Exercise can reduce joint pain and stiffness, as well as improve:

  • balance
  • muscle strength
  • flexibility
  • cardiac fitness
  • endurance
  • weight control
  • overall sense of well-being

However, it is difficult for people with arthritis to stick with a regular exercise program because of their physical limitations. While it's important to respect those limitations, it's also important to learn about the different types of exercise and set personal goals after consulting a doctor and physical therapist.

Types of Exercise

There are several types of exercise, each with a specific target for improving your physical health:

  • Range-of-motion exercises, which move each joint through its full range of motion daily
  • Strengthening exercises, which build muscle strength and improve joint stability
  • Endurance exercises, which bring heart rate up and improve cardiovascular fitness

Two subcategories of strengthening exercise are weightbearing exercise and resistance exercise. Weightlifting is an example of resistance exercise. Right now, let's focus on understanding weightbearing exercise.

What Is Weightbearing Exercise?

Weightbearing exercise is essential for building and maintaining healthy bones. Weightbearing exercise is any activity you do while on your feet and legs that works your muscles and bones against gravity. During weightbearing exercise, bone adapts to the impact of weight and the pull of muscle by building more bone cells. Consequently, bone becomes stronger and more dense. The risk of fracture, osteopenia, and osteoporosis decreases.

Weightbearing exercise includes:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • hiking
  • dancing
  • step aerobics
  • soccer
  • baseball
  • basketball
  • tennis, racquetball
  • bowling
  • golf
  • stair climbing

Exercises that are non-weightbearing include:

  • swimming
  • bicycling

In order to sustain the strengthening associated with weightbearing exercise, the intensity, duration, and amount of stress applied to bone should increase over time. But arthritis patients with physical limitations may have a problem with increasing the intensity of exercise. Arthritis patients must find the balance between too much exercise and too little.

Many arthritis patients with moderate-to-severe physical limitations will look at the list of weightbearing exercises and regrettably be able to participate in few or none of the activities. Patients with mild symptoms should be able to do more.

Talk about exercise with your doctor. It's a discussion every arthritis patient should have. Talk about what types of exercise are safe for you to do, how often you should be doing the exercises, and why it's important to consistently participate in some form of exercise on a regular basis. If arthritis prevents you from doing any weightbearing exercise, non-weightbearing alternatives are better than no exercise at all.

Sources:

Osteoporosis Prevention: Weightbearing Exercises. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. October 2007.
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00263

Prevention - Exercise for Healthy Bones. National Osteoporosis Foundation. Accessed 2/20/2008.
http://www.nof.org/aboutosteoporosis/prevention/exercise

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